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Forum debates immigration, just policies

Katie Peralta | Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Student government hosted a student forum on immigration Tuesday, which moderator Don Wycliff, the University’s associate vice president for News and Information, said was meant to produce “more light than heat.” But no heat was produced at all by a panel of students that tended to agree on most questions regarding the nationally debated issue.

The four panelists – seniors Stephanie Brauer and Michael McKenna, junior Elizabeth Ferrufino and graduate student Victor Carmona – generally agreed on the importance of immigrants to the American economy and what the role the United States should be regarding immigrants.

But for the vast majority of American citizens, Carmona said, disagreements on the issue of immigration hinge on the belief that “to be American means to be a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant.”

McKenna echoed this sentiment.

“Many [citizens] complain about a change of their lifestyle as a result of immigration,” he said, citing the economic impact of a larger labor force.

McKenna said immigration is an issue that affects everyone, not just the Americans that may be competing for jobs with immigrants.

“All Americans are stakeholders in this debate,” McKenna said. “That includes [cities where there is] industrial competition, the U.S. government, the Church and the education system.”

Ferrufino added the immigrants’ countries of origin to McKenna’s list of role players.

“Countries where immigrants are from also have a stake [on the immigration debate],” she said. “Low-income families do as well. And many companies are taking their businesses to other countries, hurting Americans and immigrants.”

But rather than from a business angle, Carmona said he views the immigration debate “through the eyes of faith.”

“We have to examine the way Catholics interpret the issue,” he said, emphasizing the need for immigration policies that are in line with Christian principles.

“The issue here is to protect the common good. Causing deaths at the border is immoral,” Carmona said.

McKenna agreed with him, saying the United States has an obligation to protect human rights both at home, at the borders and beyond.

The panel also discussed the challenges immigrants must cope with, as they are often unfamiliar with the English language and exploited by their employers in jobs that were already low-paying to begin with.

Ferrufino lamented the treatment undocumented workers receive in the United States.

“Corporations target migrants because they are vulnerable,” Ferrufino said. “It is wrong that we are exploiting immigrants in this way.”

Wycliff introduced the portion of the debate that focused on the benefits of migrant workers to the American economy by asking if immigrants are good for Social Security.

Brauer commented that the notion does hold some truth because while many undocumented workers pay taxes, they can’t claim many of the benefits.

“[Undocumented immigrants] are not getting the benefits from Social Security or reaping the benefits from social welfare programs,” she said.

McKenna complemented Brauer’s argument.

“Immigrants cannot get the [preventive] care provided to legal citizens, so there is crowding in emergency rooms, as well as crowding in schools,” McKenna said.

The panel agreed that solutions to these problems are not simple.

“Any decision we make must be comprehensive,” Carmona said. “I think the situation will get much better.”

McKenna said the need to address both the government’s actions and the citizens’ attitudes was part of the solution.

“We have to look at the public policy as well as the language we use to describe immigrants, which is insulting,” McKenna said.

The forum, which was open to anyone, was meant to continue the debate that started in September’s Notre Dame Forum on immigration.