MSNBC at USD Sparks Debate ‘Beyond the Borderlines’
November 19, 2010
By Mark R. Day
If anything struck a chord at the recent MSNBC debate on immigration held at the University of San Diego, it was the remark of Professor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco of New York University: “Immigration is too important an issue to be left in the hands of the politicians.”
The comment drew laughter and applause as did similar statements from Telemundo’s anchor Jose Diaz Ballart who excoriated both political parties for abandoning the urgent task of comprehensive immigration reform. He took particular aim at Republican spokesman Alfonso Aguilar for allowing Nevada’s senate candidates Sharon Angle of Nevada and Colorado’s Tom Tancredo to “hijack the immigration debate.”
Aguilar retorted that it was an insult to Latinos to assume they would shun the conservative principles of the Republican party, “though regretfully, a small minority of candidates within the party have taken extremist positions”
The two hour program was titled “Beyond the Borderlines.” It was anchored by journalist Lawrence O’Donnell and co-sponsored by MSNBC and the nonprofit Voto Latino, co-founded by Maria Teresa Kumar and actress Rosario Dawson.
Both Kumar and Dawson took an active part in the two hour discussion that covered subjects such as Arizona’s new immigration law, the plight of undocumented students and the challenge of how to deal with more than 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.
The last point provided a sharp contrast between most of the guests and former INS agent Michael Cutler of the right wing Center for Immigration Studies in Washington D.C. Cutler insisted that the best way to deal with undocumented immigrants is to “make life impossible for them so that they will return home.”
Most panelists bristled at Cutler’s framing the immigration debate in terms of crimin-alization. Dolores Huerta, retired vice-president of the United Farm Workers union said that solution did not address the fact that “most immigrants don’t want to come here, but they are forced to do so.”
Huerta said that policies such as the North American Free Trade Treaty dictated the outflow of migrants to the United States. “We flood Mexico with our corn and grains. These farmers have nowhere else to go,” she said. Huerta added that only a massive effort such as the post World War II Marshall Plan could stem the flow of migrants from the sending countries.
The low point of the evening occurred when Celso, an undocumented student from Phoenix, Arizona told of his struggle to stay in the U.S., the only country he has ever known. When host Lawrence O’Donnell asked Mike Cutler if he would be willing to change the law to make exceptions for students like Celso, Cutler answered, “No, you can’t make laws based on exceptional cases,” he said.
Most observers said they enjoyed the debate, but some said the discussion was impeded by the commercial talk show format that interrupts the flow of conversation with frequent commercial breaks. “All we got were short sound bytes,” said one USD student. “It would have been great to develop some of those thoughts before going on to the next subject.”
Professor Suarez-Orozco seemed to sum up the feelings of most panelists who believed that the overheated topic of immigration needed to be toned down. Suarez-Orozco, author of several books on immigration, said that the number of immigrants coming to the U.S. today is relatively small compared to the last two centuries.
“Most reasonable studies on undocumented immigrants show that their contribution to U.S. society is mostly positive,” he said. “In this country immigration is both our history and our destiny.”
Norma Chavez, an organizer with Justice Overcoming Boundaries, said what impressed her most about the debate was the courage of Celso, the undocumented student from Phoenix. “Most people can’t imagine what it is like to be without papers,” she said. “The DREAM Act will be brought to a vote in the lame duck session of Congress. We should organize and support it so that undocumented students can have the opportunities that so many of us enjoy.”
MSNBC/Voto Latino Town Hall Encore Presentation
If you missed the original airing on Monday night, you’re in luck! After positive feedback MSNBC will re-air our Town Hall Special on Immigration at 12PM EST/9AM PST this Sunday, Nov. 21st.