Ojai panelists explore immigration issues

Published on April 14th, 2015

Claudia Boyd Barrett
April 14, 2015
As seen in:
Ventura County Star

A scholar, an attorney, a former U.S. representative, a population control activist and an indigenous community organizer convened in Ojai this past weekend to discuss one of America’s most divisive and politically charged topics: immigration.

The event, titled “The Panel on Immigration: American Dream or American Nightmare?” and organized by Ojai Chautauqua, took place Sunday before a full audience at the Ojai Valley Community Church.

The panelists were former U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly; UCLA immigration scholar Hiroshi Motomura; immigration attorney Abbé Kingston; Arcenio Lopez, the executive director of Oxnard-based Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project; and Ric Oberlink, senior writing fellow and former executive director of Californians for Population Stabilization.

“Our country has a long history of struggle with the issues of immigration,” Chautauqua board chairman Tom Krause said as he introduced the panel. “On the one hand, we’re a nation of immigrants and proud of that. On the other hand, we have great difficulty arriving at a governing policy for immigration.

“You might wonder, why is that? Why is it that it’s so difficult?”

During the subsequent two-hour discussion, the panelists sought to provide insight into that and other immigration-related questions posed by moderator Herbert Gooch, a California Lutheran University political science professor. They opined on America’s current immigration control strategies, the impact of immigration on the economy and the environment, the effects of existing policies on families and employers, obstacles to comprehensive immigration reform, and what to do with the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status.

Gallegly, a Republican who represented Ventura County for over two decades and is a staunch opponent of illegal immigration, said America needs to start with better enforcement of the immigration laws already on the books.

“Let’s not just selectively decide which laws we want to enforce,” he said. “The American dream is what our children and our grandchildren are looking to. Immigrants play a role in that, but it cannot be an unlimited check to open borders.”

Oberlink cited environmental degradation, depressed wages and human rights abuses while crossing the border as outcomes of uncontrolled immigration to the United States. He spoke strongly against any kind of amnesty for the undocumented, arguing that the 1986 amnesty law simply encouraged more illegal immigration.

Motomura, meanwhile, argued that current immigration restrictions don’t match the actual demand for immigrant workers. The result is a de-facto government policy that tolerates the presence of millions of undocumented workers because they are needed for the economy, he said. Instead of debating whether those workers should be punished for breaking the law, the country needs to figure out how to best incorporate those workers as productive contributors to society, he said.

Lopez noted that many undocumented immigrants are already paying taxes and would be even more productive members of the community if they could reside here legally.

He and Kingston applauded President Barack Obama’s efforts to extend legal protection to undocumented children and their parents — although much of that is currently tied up in court — as well as California’s recent law allowing immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses. Kingston said deporting all of America’s undocumented workers is not viable and would harm the economy.

“I think we have to look at what these people contribute,” he said. “They’re part and parcel of where we are today.”

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