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BernEaters Win Final Campus Debate on Immigration

By Ian Edwards

A BernEaters victory concluded the yearlong ASUCI Campus Debate Series last Thursday with its final debate, “Immigration and the Humanitarian Crisis: What obligation does the US have towards those seeking to emigrate to the US?”

Members of UCI political clubs concluded the last debate in ASUCI 60 by 16's Campus Debate Series. (Courtesy of Justine Hernandez)
Members of UCI political clubs concluded the last debate in ASUCI 60 by 16’s Campus Debate Series. (Courtesy of Justine Hernandez)

The debate, hosted by ASUCI’s 60 by 16 commission, featured members of UCI College Republicans, UCI College Democrats, Anteaters for Bernie Sanders (BernEaters) and UCI Young Americans for Liberty.

At Thursday’s event, Bryan Sanchez and Giovanni Chavez represented College Democrats, Rob Petrosyan and Carl Olson led the College Republicans, and Aya Labanieh and William Leonard spoke for the BernEaters.

The debate was moderated by Mitchell Sterns and Justine Hernandez of the Young Americans for Liberty and Matthew Carlson, at-large Representative for ASUCI.

Throughout the debate, the BernEaters highlighted how Bernie Sanders’s immigration policies incorporate an “economic as well as a very humane perspective.” They noted that reformation of America’s visa program and more pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants are major cornerstones of Sanders’s immigration reform policies.

The first question regarded the usage of the terms “undocumented” or “illegal” to refer to immigrants without documentation. The BernEaters and the College Democrats opposed the term “illegal” due to its dehumanizing nature.  The College Republicans condoned the term “illegal,” stating that “these immigrants did not just forget their visas.”

The moderators then asked whether the US should favor skilled workers over unskilled workers and refugees. The College Democrats refuted the favoring of skilled labor, calling it undemocratic, arguing that “In this instance, you have to let the free market take its course.” This sentiment was mirrored by the College Republicans. The BernEaters supported a preference for refugees, because “they are the most vulnerable citizens in society.”

Moderators then asked for debaters’ positions on Trump’s ban on Muslims in the US. The College Republicans agreed that the ban is unconstitutional, but were divided on “the moral acceptability” of the ban  and qualified that Trump’s ban is merely a call to “heighten the vetting process and restrict immigration from Muslim majority countries.”

This qualification of Trump’s ban on Muslims was refuted by the BernEaters. The College Democrats, too, argued that it is impossible to definitively identify someone by their religion, asking, “Why do we assume that a terrorist will just walk in and have a label that identifies his religion?” College Democrats claimed this would “set a precedent to ban any people from any other country.”

When asked whether immigration helped or hurt the the US economy, the BernEaters claimed that “immigrants, regardless of status, fill a still growing gap expanding low-skilled jobs and a shrinking pool of native-born Americans.” The College Republicans conceded that immigrants “provide a great benefit to American culture and society,” but preferred them coming here through “the proper procedures.” College Republicans also claimed that immigrants drain Social Security.

College Democrats and BernEaters refuted this claim, by citing the five-year waiting time for even legal immigrants to get Social Security benefits. College Democrats noted that “Immigrants pay 15 billion in Social Security annually, but only receive one billion in benefits,”

Regarding the concern of Syrian refugees bringing in ISIS agents, College Democrats claimed that “of the 784,000 refugees that have been settled in the US after 9/11, only three have been potential terrorists.”

The College Republicans raised concerns on the vetting of these refugees and ISIS’s infiltration programs. They insisted that the US establish safe zones in Syria and wealthier Middle East nations, while admitting orphaned children, “minimizing the security threat while still trying to be humanitarian.”

The BernEaters argued that the US has “barely accepted 2,000 Syrian refugees in a period of more than four years” in an “incredibly extensive and meticulous process” that can take over two years.

The debate also covered the topic of the US’s birthright citizenship policy. All camps believed in the validity of the 14th amendment of the constitution and refuted any change to it.

College Democrats concluded the debate by answering a question about the impact of cultural appropriation. They argued for the importance of respecting another culture without making a mockery of it, and the BernEaters agreed while also stating that “there is a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation.”

The College Republicans stated that cultural appropriation is “a historic thing that has always happened across all big civilizations,” and proceeded to place a sombrero and an ushanka on their heads during the debate. They did concede that appropriation such as blackface is reprehensible, but not common.

After the moderators concluded their questions, the debaters fielded questions directly from the audience, addressing topics such as how the drug wars in Mexico affect the morality of US’s immigration policies, the political and economic logistics of Trump’s wall for Mexico and Muslim immigration in Europe.

Justine Hernandez, who has attended all the debates this year, believes that the series has encouraged political discourse on campus and helped develop the viewpoints of student attendees.

“It is really useful for people who don’t currently have views can come in here and hear all these different sides of the the issues,” said Hernandez.

After the debate, audience members participated in a poll to determine the winner of the final debate. BernEaters won by a wide margin, with 61.8 percent of the vote. College Republicans followed with 23 percent of the vote, and College Democrats received 15.1 percent of the vote. This debate marked BernEaters’s second win in the Campus Debate series.