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Immigration issues not cut and dried, audience told

Nov 1, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The discussion took place at the monthly 'Hot Topics' program at Central Wyoming College.

Roughly 60 people crowded into the Robert A. Peck Arts Center Theater at Central Wyoming College to learn about immigration issues during the newest Hot Topics discussion. The talk featured a two-woman panel that responded to prompts from a moderator and took questions from the audience.

"Hot Topics is a program of the CWC Diversity Committee to have dialogue about what are critical and potentially controversial issues of our time," moderator Jennifer Rey said.

The first panelist was Rosslyn Read, an immigration lawyer from Jackson who Rey described as "a passionate immigrant rights advocate."

Suzan Pritchett was the second panelist. She is a law professor and a co-director of the International Human Rights Law and Advocacy Center at the University of Wyoming.

The women shared similar views throughout the discussion. Both supported reforms to immigration, emphasizing human rights protection and suggesting that current immigration law does not account for how the U.S. economy depends on foreign-born labor.

Background

Rey first laid out some background

information on immigration. The United States has 40.4 million foreign-born individuals living within its boundaries, more than any other country in the world, she said. Of those, 11.1 million are in the country without authorization.

The largest source of immigrants is Mexico followed by south and east Asia.

Pritchett said that although the panelists have similar views, she thinks discussions about immigration are important to have.

"We're going to continue to have this debate, though it has taken a backseat due to some struggles in Washington," she said. "I encourage everyone to form their own opinion and to speak with their elected representatives."

Terminology

The speakers gave the audience some issues to consider when deciding what terms to use.

Read suggested not using the word "illegal" to refer to people in the country without authorization.

"Being in the country without permission ... while it is against civil law ... it's not a criminal act," she said. "That's a common misconception that's perpetuated by this word 'illegal.'"

Pritchett took issue with the word "alien."

"The problem arises with what that term connotes," she said. "With 'alien,' people think of E.T., space invaders, people who are coming into our land that shouldn't be here."

Both women used the terms "unauthorized" or "undocumented immigrants."

Economic dependence

Read spoke from personal experience on how immigration is key to the U.S. economy. She said where she lives in Park County, many immigrants work in low-paying, labor-intensive occupations -- such as cooking and dish washing in restaurants and housekeeping in hotels.

She does not think many native-born Americans would take those jobs at the same wages. Prices for consumers would increase dramatically if immigrants were not performing that work, she said.

"Speaking as someone from Jackson, which is heavily dependent on tourism, ... our economy would effectively collapse if the immigrant population were to suddenly be deported or disappear," she said.

Later she explained that obtaining visas to live and work in the United States legally is a long process and the current immigration regime does not provide enough visas compared with how much the national economy depends on migrant labor.

Read suggested increasing the number of visas granted would be one positive step in immigration reform.

Pritchett added the law should take into account whether deporting a person would break up a family.

The next Hot Topics forum, on decriminalizing marijuana, is set for 11 a.m. Nov. 21 at the CWC Intertribal Center.

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Central Wyoming College