Media Pick Apart Anti-Immigrant Group's Ad Blaming California Water Shortage On Immigration

Univision and the Los Angeles Times have thoroughly debunked an ad by the anti-immigrant group Californians For Population Stabilization (CAPS) that blames California's drought-induced water shortage on immigration.

Although CAPS presents itself as an organization focused on “preserv[ing] the environment,” numerous experts have pointed out that the group disingenuously uses environmental concerns to promote an anti-immigrant agenda. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has described CAPS as “a nativist organization masquerading as an environmental group.” Similarly, Huffington Post reported that the executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC) remarked of CAPS:  “They're basically trying to find any way to spin their anti-immigrant vitriol, so hey, why not choose the environment?” And NBC News reported that "[t]he National Council of La Raza said CAPS can say their concern is the environment, but that it is actually an anti-immigrant group."

According to SPLC, CAPS is part of an anti-immigration network that includes several organizations that have been labeled as “hate groups.”  Further, SPLC notes that CAPS has received funding from the Pioneer Fund, which has bankrolled “leading Anglo-American race scientists.”  The California drought is not the first example of CAPS exploiting a crisis in order to advance its anti-immigrant agenda -- in 2011, the group used California's unemployment rate to advocate for “slow[ing] legal immigration.”

CAPS' television ad that plays on concerns about the drought features a young boy asking, "[i]f Californians are having fewer children, why isn't there enough water?" On the May 27 edition of Univision's Noticiero Univision, correspondent Luis Megid interviewed San Francisco State University professor Oswaldo Garcia about the ad:

Garcia, a meteorology professor and tropical climatology expert, dismissed CAPS' claims. He noted that although California's population has grown, 80 percent of the state's developed water supply is used for agricultural -- not residential -- purposes.

The Los Angeles Times also rebutted CAPS in both a news article and column. Addressing CAPS' claims in a May 24 article, the Times reported:

Some drought experts have taken issue with [CAPS'] claims, pointing out that the majority of the state's water supports agriculture.

Blaming the drought on immigrants “doesn't fit the facts,” said William Patzert, a climatologist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The drought is caused by meager snowpack and poor planning, he said, "not because the immigrants are drinking too much water or taking too many showers. 

Others point out that many immigrants probably use less water than the average California resident because they tend to live in multi-family dwellings, not higher-consuming single-family homes.

“It's unlikely that the 'burden' of immigrants is very significant,” said Stephanie Pincetl, professor in residence at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA." 

Additionally, in a May 26 column, the Times' Michael Hiltzik wrote that CAPS was “exploit[ing]” the drought by “immigrant bashing,” and added that “pointing the finger at immigrants” is “cynical, dishonest and factually incorrect.” Hiltzik noted that even with population growth, “a sharp reduction in urban per capital water use” has allowed the state's total water consumption to go down (emphasis added):

The truth is that California has been able to sustain that huge increase in population without a commensurate increase in water consumption--actually, with a decrease in water consumption. In 1990, when the census placed the state's population at 29.8 million, the state's freshwater withdrawals came to 35.1 billion gallons per day, according to the authoritative U.S. Geological Survey. In 2010, with a population of 37.3 million, that state drew 31.1 billion gallons per day.

How did that happen? Chiefly through a sharp reduction in urban per capital water use, which has been falling steadily since the mid-1990s, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, and especially in the populous coastal zone. 

CAPS' anti-immigration claims, which were recently echoed by the National Review, are reminiscent of other conservative media outlets that have used the California drought as an opportunity to baselessly attack environmental policies.