By Joan Blades - My family figured out how to be out of sight Saturday afternoon while I co-hosted my second living room conversation. I was both anxious about and looking forward to our conversation about immigration. Our first conversation about money in politics allowed us to get to know each other sufficiently to realize that we like each other, as well as to appreciate what different perspectives we bring to our conversation. We used a tested structured format for our first Living Room Conversation. Conversation number two was new for all of us. My co-host Amanda and I were grateful to have a few questions proposed by expert facilitators for this second conversation. We believed that these questions, the ground rules and our shared desire to have a constructive conversation would be a good foundation for our talk. We also encouraged our 4 guests to help us negotiate this new territory.
Prior to the meeting we invited our group to share information online. - "One of the things that we talked about after our first Living Room Conversation, was the desire to have some shared knowledge around the topic at hand so we invited everyone to share an item - a newspaper article, a report, a study, a source from a medium you trust that informs your opinion(s) on immigration. This way, we can see a glimpse of the perspective(s) that we as individuals are entering into this conversation with."
As the conversation unfolded it became ever clearer that "fixing immigration" is a daunting task. We wanted to address how to deal fairly with the 7 to 11 million immigrants that are living here without papers already as well as current immigration policy - what is fair? What is best for America? Should legal immigrants that don’t speak English be accommodated? Should immigration policy be about individuals or families? Are immigrants a financial burden or a benefit? What would happen if all undocumented immigrants were sent home? Should babies born here of non-citizens really be automatically citizens?
The law was referenced as the right way to decide who is in and who is out. Rodney pointed out through a series of questions that laws are made by the people in power and they are not necessarily fair. Today few people would defend the law that required Black people to sit at the back of the bus in the 50s. He doesn't want acceptance to be based upon people's color, country of origin or who they know. His core argument - legal immigration should be based on something achievable, not something defined by birth. Intellect is malleable; wouldn't a test be more fair? I found myself looking at the immigration question from yet another angle.
The topic is complicated in so many ways. As our understanding of the challenges deepened the need to segment it into more manageable pieces became one area of broad agreement.
We discovered two action areas where there was a great deal of agreement. Helping Mexico become a more prosperous country, especially near our boarders, would be an excellent way to diminish the pressure for Mexicans to come to the U.S. illegally. Also, passing some version of The Dream Act, legislation which creates a pathway for children who have grown up in this country but don’t have documentation to become citizens if they go to college or join the military, seemed to have support but for one person in our small group - because he had not studied the Dream Act.
Our conversation was passionate, informative and respectful. Most of us know people that have suffered with the uncertainty of their immigrant status. None of us are comfortable with the abuse that can happen to undocumented workers. We are not proud of our deeply flawed immigration system that costs us all- huge investments in boarder security, unnecessary deaths of immigrants attempting to come here illegally, hefty legal fees that immigrants must pay though they can ill afford them and families separated for years at a time. All of us have relatives that were immigrants of some sort at one time. I was grateful to be able to have a conversation with such diverse opinions. I know more about how great the challenge of fixing our immigration system is and feel better prepared to address the challenge with other citizens of good will. I hope that as a nation we can have many more conversations of this quality. Let's identify our areas of agreement. And then let's find time to tease apart the complex issues and collaborate to create solutions that we can all be proud of.....for all our crucial issues.