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NYU Stern, The Economist and CFR.org Discuss the Immigration Balancing Act

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With millions of legal and illegal immigrants in the country, immigration is a hot button topic in the current US Presidential campaign. On "Super Tuesday," NYU Stern, The Economist and the Council on Foreign Relations.org held a panel discussion about immigration, entitled, "The Immigration Balancing Act: Border Security, Cheap Labor and US Jobs," the third in a series of events focusing on global issues as they relate to the election. Panelists Edward Alden, Council on Foreign Relations; Adam Roberts, News Editor, Economist.com; and Cristina Rodríguez, Associate Professor of Law, NYU Law School talked about immigration as an economic, legal and policy issue. Thomas Cooley, dean of NYU Stern, moderated the event before an audience of students, alumni and business leaders.

Cooley launched the discussion with background on immigration, noting it is not strictly a problem for the US. Discussing the toxicity of the issue, Alden posited that it stems largely as a result of September 11, 2001 and people's desires to insulate themselves from terrorism with increased border security, stricter naturalization laws, etc. Rodríguez, calling the immigration issue a manufactured crisis, touched on the economic impact by highlighting the burden put on state and local governments by the immigrant population who access educational resources and healthcare.

Roberts echoed Rodríguez's view of a manufactured crisis, recalling how earlier migrants would spend six months in the US and six in Mexico and now, with hardened borders, are more inclined to bring their families and stay in the US. When asked about the value of erecting walls or fences to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the US borders, Roberts asserted that that one cannot build a big enough wall. The solution to deterring illegal immigrants, he said, is to crack down on those illegally employing this group. Alden pointed out that approximately 40 percent of illegal immigrants enter this country legally, coming in by air and staying with lapsed visas.

Cooley asked the panelists for different scenarios in dealing with this issue depending on which candidate wins the presidency. All agreed that a McCain presidency would likely address the immigration issue, while a Clinton or Obama presidency likely would not, since healthcare is more of a primary issue for them. The panelists counseled the next president to focus on creating a new immigration system, open the dialogue with Mexico and the international community, invest in neighboring countries, and disentangle the issues of immigration and security.

Alden advised turning the debate of illegal immigration from a paradigm of fear and anger to the creation of a new, functioning system. Cooley opened up the discussion to the audience, and the panelists addressed the effects of pro-immigration rallies on the issue (not always positive), border security and the issuance of drivers' licenses.


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