Immigration Town Hall Meeting: Voices from the Left & Right

Immigration Town Hall Meeting: Voices from the Left & Right

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Maha Neouchy
July 30, 2013

Immigration has been a serious topic affecting our country since its inception. Still a prevalent issue in the United States today, the International Affairs program hosted a special town hall meeting at the Blinken Auditorium on Monday, July 22nd. While both panelists actually echoed many of the same views when it came to immigration reform in the United States, the two come from opposite sides of the political spectrum.


Facilitating a Discussion on Immigration


Panelist 1: Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America's Voice

Panelist 2: Alfonso Aguilar, Executive Director, Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles

Moderator: Fernando Pizarro, Washington Affiliates Correspondent, Univision


Pizarro facilitated the discussion between the two panelists, asking them to answer questions surrounding immigration today as well as fielding questions from the audience:


Pizarro: What is going on with immigration reform today?


Sharry: The Republican party lost a lot of voters on election day. That is why there was a need for a bipartisan group to come together to develop Centrist policies on immigration reform. There are strong divisions within the ranks and a lot of people who haven't made up their minds on immigration. 218 votes are required in the House to pass a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, meaning they would only need 20 votes from the Republican party. But unfortunately, they are really just starting the discussion now. And politically, the Republicans are facing a moment of truth. If they don't get this right, their brand of "anti-Latino and anti-immigration" will go from bad to terminal.


Aguilar: Frank's summary is accurate, but some of his political analysis is wrong. Immigration should not be a partisan issue. Yes, Republicans have been awful in terms of rhetoric, but the party has tried to pass policy regarding immigration. I would disagree that it is the right that opposes immigration. It is within the Tea Party that there is a diversity of opinions and many people who want to do something conservative with immigration.


If the Republican party is smart, they will put pressure on the White House as well as Democrats to build consensus. What does broad consensus mean? It means we shouldn’t be taking anything off the table and Republicans need to be building support for that in order to make a path to citizenship happen.


Pizarro: The track record of Congress the last 13 years has been pretty bad. Frank [Sharry], what do you think is the track record in trying to pass immigration reform and what are the chances of something actually happening?


Sharry: I think it's 50/50. POLITICO wrote an article touching on the cynicism that immigration reform is dead. But the reason I'm optimistic is because the fundamentals are strong, not because I have faith in House Republicans or Congress. Political pressure on both parties is strong and legitimacy of Congress is in question. Can they solve big problems? Immigration reform will reduce the deficit by $1 trillion. It's clear that the fundamentals of immigration reform are strong despite the dysfunction that exists in Congress.


Pizarro: Republicans are in a tough position. Alfonso [Aguilar], do you think Republicans are really in danger of being terminal as Frank suggested? Do you think in the short term that Republicans could be heard?


Aguilar: Yes, definitely. I don't think Republicans could win the White House unless they get at least 40% of the Latino vote. Romney was only able to get 27%. The general public wants to see something done in terms of immigration and I would estimate that around 50% within the Tea Party are for immigration reform.


Students Questions for Immigration Reform Experts


Shamoyia Gardiner, a student at the University of Florida and intern at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, questioned the effectiveness of the proposed path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. She felt that anything lasting over a decade is excessive. Sharry agreed with Shamoyia that 13 years is way too long, proposing that a new decade-long process might be better to keep costs down. Aguilar added that when examining the legal process, "...the law should be color blind. Is there an element of racism? There is definitely an element of xenophobia. Xenophobia fears what is different. There are people who are scared from both the left and from the right. We started seeing that in the last decade, ever since people began entering the country both legally and illegally. We cannot solve cultural differences just with the law. It will take time."


Katie Scott, a student at Eastern Kentucky University and intern at Innovation in Civic Participation, noticed that both panelists agreed with the dysfunction that currently exists in Congress when it comes to immigration reform. She asked if the issue was less about "Republicans vs. Democrats and more about conservative vs. liberal?" Sharry responded by saying that he thought of himself more as a, " first and a Democrat second." The issue at hand is not about Democrats doing better than Republicans, but rather about creating change and reform. What Sharry wants most is for "...people to live with respect and dignity. Our cause is more important than the party." Aguilar understands that as a Republican, "...thinks the problem stems from conservatives lacking the ability to construct a message from a liberal perspective." He also blames it on the divisiveness that exists within D.C. and more overtly on President Obama, who has not built many working relationships with Republicans like other Democratic presidents in the past.


Diana Catalina Zafra, a student at Florida International University and intern at Arlington Refugee Services, wanted clarification as to why Congress cannot work around the issue of border control since more immigrants are leaving the country than entering. Sharry responded by saying that there does need to be enforcement in order to get these bills passed and there are three possible yet different approaches:


  1. Keep the status quo
  2. Have a European Union approach
  3. Instead of repressing immigration, regulate it

He also thinks that the U.S. needs a functional verification process if the U.S. decides to legalize a path to citizenship for 11 million people. Aguilar, on the other hand, believes in increasing border security and allocating more resources to border control efforts in order to tackle the challenges that the U.S. faces such as sex trafficking and other criminal activity along the border. He thinks the best way to do this could be through the implementation of a strategic fence or drone planes.


Open Communication on a Controversial Topic


TWC would like to thank both of the panelists and the moderator for their open dialogue about this topic. It was an informative panel that brought voices from opposite sides of the political spectrum and exposed them to TWC's summer 2013 interns.


[View photos of the event on our Flickr channel]

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