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The Battle Over the Border

Students, policy makers talk immigration reform in Wednesday’s Great Debate

The students arguing the pros and cons of stricter immigration law enforcement at tonight’s Great Debate may disagree on whether a border fence is the solution to the country’s illegal immigration problems. But they share a conviction that questions about the dilemma will become increasingly important as the 2008 presidential election approaches.

“Immigration ties in with so many of the other issues facing Americans today — education, health care, energy use,” says Anuj Shelat (SMG’08), one of the two students participating in the event. “The question of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants was in the Democratic candidate debates. It affects a lot of different policies.”

The College of Communication’s 24th semiannual Great Debate, which features two professionals and a student ranged on either side of an important and timely issue, will be held on Wednesday, November 7, at 6:30 p.m. in the Tsai Performance Center. The topic: Can Stricter Law Enforcement at the Border and the Workplace Solve the U.S. Illegal Immigration Problem?

Shelat, taking the position that stricter border control policies will not curb illegal immigration, will be joined by B. Lindsay Lowell, the director of policy studies at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, and Eva A. Millona, the policy director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

Stephanie Hoffman (LAW’10), arguing the counterpoint, will team up with Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C., and Louis J. Barletta, the mayor of Hazleton, Pa., where local businesses and landlords may be punished by law for giving work or shelter to illegal immigrants.

“I tried to craft my arguments from a law school student’s perspective,” says Hoffman, who was assigned the affirmative viewpoint after auditioning for the debate. “If we accept the immigration policy standards that exist now, what are the implications of not enforcing those laws? What message does this send to individuals living in this country and individuals wanting to come to this country?”

Immigration reform has been in the news off and on since 2003, when President George W. Bush announced plans for a comprehensive reform program that would allow immigrants to enter the country legally on temporary “guest worker” visas. The bill failed in Congress last June, but more recently, local and state policies have become fodder for debate. This fall, state and federal lawmakers, as well as Mitt Romney, a Republican presidential candidate and a former Massachusetts governor, called for cuts in federal funding for “sanctuary cities,” places that have laws preventing police officers from asking people about their immigration status. In September, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer announced a plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants; U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, a candidate for president, drew fire at a debate among Democratic presidential candidates on October 30 for waffling, saying that the proposal “makes a lot of sense” and that she “did not say it should be done.”

Shelat, arguing against border enforcement, describes the current efforts to construct a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border as "treating the symptoms,” but ignoring the illness. “It’s costly and way too shortsighted,” he says. “This is something we really have to look at and figure out before it becomes a bigger problem.”

The Great Debate will be held on Wednesday, November 7, at 6:30 p.m. in the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave. The event is free and open to the public.

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.