The Coalition for Immigrant Rights, a student organization that heavily protested two controversial College Republicans events, hosted a panel discussion on immigration that many audience members said was pro-immigration. The coalition was aiming to hold a balanced discussion on aspects of both legal and illegal immigration.
The immigration panel – composed of five speakers – included two representatives from organizations that provide support to illegal immigrants, a Yale law professor, the co-director of immigration studies at NYU and the director of the Americas Project at the Center for American Progress.
"It was sided," said CAS senior Nora Toiv, the president of the College Democrats. The College Democrats are a part of the coalition. "No one said the Democrats were all good, the other side just couldn’t be exposed here."
The coalition, composed of LUCHA, Students for Creating Radical Change, the NYU College Democrats and the ACLU at NYU, was formed after the College Republicans’ "Find the Illegal Immigrant" event. The College Republicans wanted to hold a joint debate with the coalition, but the coalition refused because the College Republicans refused to apologize for their initial event. Earlier this month, the College Republicans hosted a panel discussion with Minutemen president Chris Simcox, which the coalition protested.
"We felt the wrong type of attention was brought to immigration issue," said CAS senior Francisco Guzman, the president of the club Latinos Unidos Con Honor y Amistad.
Although yesterday’s panel was intended to represent varying viewpoints, the speakers’ discussion turned almost entirely pro-immigrant.
"We’re not going to stop immigration," said Saru Jayaraman, the executive director of the Restaurant Opportunities Council, an organization that provides support for immigrant restaurant workers in the city. "If they build the wall, we’ll just build tunnels."
Jayaraman supported illegal immigration and described a very "painful" situation where illegal immigrants were fired because a restaurant owner decided to start following the law and hired U.S. citizens.
"We can’t retaliate against undocumented workers and we must protect their rights as workers," Jayaraman said.
Jayaraman also said that it made no sense to support a guest worker program because it would "take too long to do all of the work."
Dan Restrepo, the director of the Washington, D.C.-based Americas Project, explained the Democrats’ view on illegal immigration. He said that the government was mostly "moderate" about the topic and that there "wasn’t much talk on the issue."
Professor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, the co-director of immigration studies at NYU, emphasized that human history is a reflection of human immigration, dating back to our early wandering ancestors.
Suarez-Orozco said that the future of the country depends on immigrants since "immigration is at the center of the American narrative."
Peter H. Schuck, a professor of law at Yale University, presented the legal aspect of illegal immigration.
"Law is a weak instrument for controlling the titanic forces that regard immigration," Schuck said.
Schuck explained that immigration issues have been difficult to control since the "modern system of law" was introduced in 1965.
The three major streams of immigration are family unification, work search and humanitarian admissions, said Schuck.
Yorelis Vidal, the final panelist and the organizer of the group Make the Road by Walking, spoke in Spanish, and required a translator to describe her immigration experience.
After entering the country illegally from Nicaragua, Vidal obtained permission to live in the country for a year and later became a citizen. She is now trying to distribute a proposition to congressmen promoting rights for illegal immigrant rights.
"The law is ridiculous," Vidal said. "We just have to send out the proposition now."
Vidal said she sent her proposition to Senator Hillary Clinton. The proposition describes six points she feels should be enforced, including creating a new worker’s program.
Around 60 people attended the event.
Some students who attended the event were relatively satisfied with the outcome.
"I feel very passionate about the issue," said CAS junior Chris Cruzcosa, the newly elected next president of the College Democrats. "And I know too little about it."
– additional reporting by B. Han