The Bobo Spiritual Life Center, along with the Waco Immigration Alliance, hosted a public deliberation forum on the topic of immigration in America Monday at 5 p.m. Students and Waco community members were encouraged to attend and discuss the matter.
Erin Payseur, associate director of civic learning initiatives at Baylor, led the discussion and explained why she believes immigration is a topic to be concerned about. Baylor has held several public forums in the past, and after a September 2014 discussion on immigration led to unexpected fruitfulness, the department decided to host another.
Payseur said although people who participate in similar forums may have some shared values, their closest values can vary. For example, most Americans value security and comfort, which might affect the way they vote about immigration.
Participants were each given a placemat detailing three different options on how to handle immigration policy. The first option, “Welcoming New Arrivals,” was met with little tension around the table. This policy included options such as clearing backlogs of immigrants currently waiting to get into the country, creating easier pathways to citizenship or providing temporary legal residency for seasonal workers.
There were also trade-offs to consider, like having trouble admitting even larger numbers of immigrants, or that assisting undocumented immigrants may reward people who entered illegally while punishing those who took legal means.
“We may be assuming peoples’ feelings by saying they’d be penalized,” said Hope Mustakim, a member of the Waco Immigration Alliance. “They may not be upset.”
Mustakim also said she had personally dealt with the immigration process five years ago when her husband was detained. It was this trial that led her to become an advocate for immigrants and the policies made for or against their admittance into the United States.
“Many people enter the country as a means of survival. So it wouldn’t be a matter or rewarding or punishing,” Mustakim said.
The second option, “Protect Our Borders,” called for tighter policies on immigration, including restricting the number of immigrants legally allowed to enter the U.S. and stepping up security measures at the border. This option was met with criticism.
Elisia Jelley, Baylor alumna and member of the Waco Immigration Alliance, said that if this option was chosen, many immigrants would feel the need to use illegal means to enter the country.
“Maybe coming legally seems too much of a risk to people who are already in danger,” Jelley said.
The group agreed that the only viable option from the restrictive choice would be to increase the involvement in Mexico’s economy in hopes of making it a better place to live.
The last option, “Promote Economic Prosperity,” involved an economic-conscious policy. The major source of concern was if jobs created by minorities or immigrants were taken away, the economy would suffer.
The consensus was that decreasing the number of jobs created by immigrants would harm the economy overall. Jelley said that while many Americans are concerned with job competition, the jobs created by immigrants would not be jobs many Americans would be interested in.
“It would be really difficult to find people to do these jobs because those are not nice jobs,” Jelley said. “Is it really competition to the jobs we’re looking at?”
Baylor Social Work student Alex Holland said there needs to be a balance between the economy’s need for these workers and a Christian’s duty for social justice. Holland said that although immigrants are interested in these jobs, it is difficult for them to integrate into society because of poor treatment.
Baylor student Evan Stewart agreed and said he was concerned that many are not worried about that aspect of the equation.
“What difference does it make if we pay someone off the books and treat them like they live in a third world country, or we choose not to immigrate them and they live that way somewhere else?” said Stewart. “We have to be responsible.”
The forum came to a close with a discussion of what could be done moving forward. The group decided that is was up to each of us to stay well-researched and involved in topics of importance. You can find out more about American immigration policy online at wacoia.com or 6:30 p.m. today where Waco Immigration Alliance is discussing immigration detention at the Brooks Flats classroom.