U.S. immigration reform was the topic of debate Friday night at a televised panel discussion in the Marvin Center Ballroom. GW professor Amitai Etzioni joined other immigration experts in addressing the need for changes in U.S immigration policy after Sept. 11.
The Communitarian Network, a non-partisan research institute, organized the panel, which included Mark Krikorian of the Center of Immigration Studies, Kathleen Newland, founder of the Migration Policy Institute, and Jose Pertierra, an attorney specializing in immigration and international human rights law.
“The purpose of today’s forum is to have civil conversation,” Etzioni said. “No cross-fires, no hard-balls.”
Etzioni, who also serves as director of the network led the panel, televised on C-SPAN and attended by a handful of students and local reporters.
The panel focused on the controversial question of whether immigrants pose a threat to national security.
“It is not the immigrants that are the threat to our national security; it is our immigration policy,” Krikorian said.
The panelists agreed that changes are needed in many aspects of immigration policy, such as border security, intelligence and visa issuing.
“Our immigration system at every level has proven to be lax,” Krikorian said.
Krikorian sparked a heated debate by suggesting that visa officials overseas should be given “sweeping powers” to prohibit “enemies of America” from receiving permission to enter the United States. He said “enemies” of America could be determined after thorough interviewing of all visa candidates to determine their political views.
“We have no reason to permit people who want America’s destruction to enter,” Krikorian said. “We have no obligation to let them in.”
Newland called Krikorian’s suggestion “antithetical of American values, especially of freedom of speech.”
Pertierra compared Krikorian’s views to those of former Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the staunch anti-Communist U.S Senator of the 1950’s.
Newland stressed that not all terrorists are immigrants, citing Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and John Walker, the American Taliban fighter.
“Terrorism operates in almost every institution in our society, from banks to universities,” she said. “We need more instruments, more intelligence. We cannot use immigration as our only instrument to fight terrorism.”
Etzioni proposed limiting the number of immigrants into the U.S.
The panelists also discussed the need for a better system to monitor how long immigrants with visitors’ visas are actually staying in the country.
Krikorian suggested an electronic monitoring system, saying that one who has overstayed their time limit must have the opportunity to present his circumstances in a process of hearings.
“There are no means to know if those who entered the U.S with a temporary visa have left,” Krikorian said. “If a person has violated his visa, then he has no right to be here. That’s the law.”