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Students debate US immigration policy

| Friday, February 20, 2015

As part of this year’s Immigration Week, the Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy (SCIA) hosted a debate between the College Republicans and College Democrats on Thursday night to discuss illegal immigration, particularly in light of President Barack Obama’s executive actions taken in November.

Sophomore Hannah Legatzke and freshman Roxana Rodriguez Garcia, who moderated the debate, began with a brief explanation of the executive orders the president issued earlier this year.

“In 2012, there were approximately 11.2 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., and the majority of them are from Mexico — about 53 percent,” Rodriguez Garcia said. “In 2012, about 10 percent of students from K through 12 had a parent who was an unauthorized immigrant.”

One of the executive orders expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that allows certain undocumented immigrants who are younger than 31 but entered the country before they turned 16 and who have lived in the U.S. since 2007 to be eligible to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation.

Under the executive order, the 2007 deadline would be pushed to 2010, the requirement that immigrants be younger than 31 would be removed and the renewable work permit and deportation exemption would be increased from two to three years.

Legatzke noted that 26 states have joined a lawsuit started by Texas governor Greg Abbot against the executive actions, questioning their constitutionality. On Tuesday, a district court judge in Texas struck down the executive action.

“This is also becoming really relevant now because funding for Homeland Security is tied up in this lawsuit,” Legatzke said. “Congress won’t authorize the funding for Homeland Security unless the executive action doesn’t go through, which is increasingly relevant now, because the Department of Homeland Security is set to run out of money on February 27.”

The first panelist to speak was the director of political affairs for the College Republicans, sophomore and Junior Class Council vice presidential candidate Louis Bertolotti, who stressed the importance of border security and legal avenues of immigration.

“The Republicans want to say first of all and before anything else that we support legal immigration,” Bertolotti said. “I think that’s something that’s often overlooked.

I’m going to read to you from the Statue of Liberty, which says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send those, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.'”

Bertolotti said although Republicans support legal immigration, they also view illegal immigration as a “very serious problem.”

“The reason for this is, first of all, we’d like to point out that more illegal immigrants enter the country than legal ones,” he said. “And this is a very dangerous thing for two reasons; now there’s physical reasons and economic reasons. The physical reasons for this are because of the actual fact that they cross the border. Now if it’s that easy to get a person across the border of the United States of America, what’s to stop drugs from getting across the border? What’s to stop weapons from getting across the border? This is a very contentious issue because of our security.

“On top of that, there’s an economic side to it as well. The New York Times has said that illegal immigration has lowered the incomes of Americans without a high school diploma by 7.4 percent. That’s 25 million Americans. Now this is a problem because these are hard-working Americans, and we are in an economic crisis. Illegal immigration has only hurt our economy and actually will only continue to hurt our economy in the future.”

Seniors Sean Paulsen and Justin Dancu represented the College Democrats in the debate, arguing that the executive order issued by President Obama was in fact constitutional, that immigration is an issue of human dignity and that policy must be enacted to deal with the nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.

Dancu’s remarks focused largely on the idea of human dignity and how that concept plays into the immigration debate. He said a primary target of mass deportation “doesn’t seem to fit well with our human nature” because it removes people from their communities and their families.

“This is actually a salient point, and one that struck a cord with Ronald Reagan and President George Bush, senior,” Dancu said. “This is why, when they enacted immigration reform in the eighties, they took it a step further and used their prosecutorial discretion in 1990 and extended this deferred action, essentially a stay on deportation, to family members of these original legal immigrants who were allowed to stay for a period of time.”

Countering Bertolotti’s assertion that border security should be a primary priority, Paulsen expressed frustration that the Republican position did not, in his opinion, adequately address immigrants currently in the country.

“I think what you’re going to notice in the Republican response and in Republican lawmaking as a whole is that all their responses are seriously absent of any real substantive response to the policy-making decisions with regards to the illegal aliens who are currently here now. Every question you can direct to a Republican congressman or senator is going to be responded to with negative responses by what is being done by Democrats now.

“If you ask what we should be doing about illegal aliens here, you will get a response, which is, ‘We should secure the border, and also what Obama is doing is illegal.’ And what you notice there is that there’s no plan.”

Senior Mark Gianfalla, who was not a part of the panel but currently serves as the president of the College Republicans, noted from the audience that although there is no party-wide stance on how to handle the issue of illegal immigrants currently in the United States, candidates have offered their own ideas about how to proceed.

“So part of the republican platform is border security,” Gianfalla said. “There is no specific Republican idea in the platform of what to do with the illegal immigrants who are here illegally. But every presidential candidate that has run in the Republican Party has had a stance, and that stance is different.

“Also it has been suggested that immigrants prove that they can facilitate positive economic influx to the economy, so having a job, paying taxes and so forth and maintaining a job and deporting those who can’t. Additionally, some candidates have suggested military service as an option for citizenship.”

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About Margaret Hynds

Margaret is a senior Political Science major and the former Editor-in-Chief of The Observer. She hails from Washington, D.C., and is a former Phox of Pangborn Hall. Follow Margaret on Twitter @MargaretHynds

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