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NIF and Kettering Contribute to Debates About Immigration Reform

[From the Kettering Foundation’s latest “Friday Letter”]

Immigration is THE topic in Washington these days. The good news is that National Issues Forums (NIF) and the Kettering Foundation (KF) are there, too. Forums on an issue titled The New Challenges of American Immigration: What Should We Do? were held all across the country in 2003-2005. KF published a report on the forums last November and convened a roundtable in Washington to talk about it. Copies of the KF report will go to the offices of each of the U.S. Senators on the Judiciary Committee next week. What will they learn? Click on the link below to find out!

In the report, prepared by Doble Research Associates, forum participants were seen as less polarized than the view of the general public. In a national survey, the report noted, using the same questions as in the post-forum questionnaire, the general public was more likely to “strongly” favor or oppose a number of statements related to the issue. Having had the opportunity to deliberate, forum participants were more inclined to favor certain tradeoffs than was the general public.

While many participants, especially in the Southwest, wanted to limit or even slash immigration, most were stumped on how to accomplish the goal. Ideas like building a wall, using the National Guard, or relying on citizen volunteers, such as the Minute Men, were usually rejected. Many participants said illegal immigrants fill jobs at low wages that Americans don’t want and, in the process, help producers and keep prices down for consumers.

Where are we now? Forums results, according to the report, suggest that the American people are misinformed about key aspects of the issue and have a sketchy, incomplete understanding of others. The most controversial issue in the forums involved people entering the country illegally.

What about guest workers, a major issue in the Senate deliberations? “Few clearly understood the formal proposal from political leaders,” the report said. In a small number of forums, however, whether or not participants actually understood the idea completely, many supported or even suggested such a concept saying it sounded like a promising way to reduce the number of people crossing the border illegally. Others were cynical about the proposal, saying it would only “reward” those who are already in the U.S. illegally.

Amy Lang
Amy Lang is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia. She wrote her dissertation on British Columbia’s groundbreaking Citizens’ Assembly process, and is currently doing follow-up research on the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly.

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