The small group assembled at the Oconee County Library to discuss immigration expressed one significant disappointment at the end of its two-hour long deliberation.
There was much more agreement among the participants than disagreement, those engaged in the conversation said, and the discussion was limited because of it.
They were skeptical of the argument that current levels of immigration are too high and of proposals to cut back on the number of immigrants entering the country.
The event was organized by the Oconee Progressives and was designed as part of the National Issues Forums of the Kettering Foundation, a nonprofit operating foundation, based in Dayton, Ohio, that focuses on deliberation in service of democracy.
Margaret Holt, a retired University of Georgia Adult Education professor who has worked extensively with the Kettering Foundation and is active with Oconee Progressives, said a lack of diversity of opinion in National Issues Forums is a common problem.
|Oconee County National Issues Forum 3/18/2018|
“I’ve been doing forums since 1981,” she said. “Unfortunately, at every forum I’ve been to, there has been regret expressed that other voices weren’t there.
“But we are going to keep trying,” she added.
Invitations to participate in the Forum said it was open to the public and did not state a position on immigration.
A summary of the local discussions will be sent to Kettering and then be presented at a press conference in Washington, according to Holt.
“I really wanted Oconee County to weigh in on this,” she said.
The National Issues Forums is a network of organizations associated with the Kettering Foundation that brings together citizens to talk about pressing social and political issues of the day.
(I have collaborated with the Kettering Foundation on research on public opinion regarding journalism and the media and on issues in journalism education.)
Signal Of Common Background
As the Forum started at 3 p.m. on March 18 at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville, 11 people were seated in a circle, with Tracey Wyatt at the podium at the front of the Room.
Five individuals were seated outside the circle, including me, and others joined the group as the discussion progressed.
Wyatt is one of the organizers of Oconee Progressives, an informal local group that has sponsored programs on a number of issues, including on bullying in schools and on building common understanding across partisan divides.
Confirmation of the shared perspectives of those in the circle came about half way through the discussion when one of those in the circle asked how many people in the room had traveled outside the U.S.
All those in the circle raised a hand.
“Maybe we should have broadened our invite,” one of those in the group said.
The participants were given a booklet at the start of the program called Coming To America: Who Should We Welcome, What Should We Do?
The booklet spelled out three options, which the Oconee County participants discussed in order.
The first option was labeled: Welcome Immigrants, Be A Beacon Of Freedom.
The booklet said that “immigration has helped make American what it is today–a dynamic and diverse culture, an engine of the global economy, and a beacon of freedom around the world.”
The Oconee County participants stated opposition to making English the official language of the country and in favor of open borders. The also were in favor of immigration policy favoring family unification.
“The projections for birth rates in the United States are just going down and down and down,” one of the participants said. “The only way we are going to have any population increase is immigration.”
“All of the economic growth has to come from immigration,” she added.
“Families are the foundational institution of this society,” another participant said. “Cutting off the family chain seems really counterproductive to me.”
The second option in the booklet was called: Enforce The Law, Be Fair to Those Who Follow The Rules.
It says the country needs “a fair system, where rules are clear and, above all, enforced. With an estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally, our current system is unjust and uncontrolled.”
One of the participants said that a person who has been here 20 years and has worked is “likely to have given back a lot to the community.”
“So deportation is an insult,” she said. “It is beyond punishment. It doesn’t make any sense.”
If a person has committed a crime, that is a different matter, she added.
The group was particularly concerned about deporting children brought to the country illegally by their parents.
The third option given the group was called: Slow Down And Rebuild Our Common Bonds.
This option states that “newcomers have strengthened American culture in the past. But the current levels of immigration are so high, and the country is now so diverse, that we must regain our sense of national purpose and identity.”
One of the participants blamed the federal government and the media for a deterioration of the a sense of national identity, not the immigrants.
“I think there is sort of an all-purpose demonization,” another participant said. “Today it’s immigrants. Tomorrow it’s gays. The next day it’s women. The next day it is whatever.”
“I don’t think immigration is to be blamed at all,” he said.
The video below is of he entire session, which begins with an introduction of the topic and a short video clip.
Discussion of Option 1 begins at 32:52 in the video.
Discussion of Option 2 begins at 1:00 in the video.
Discussion of Option 3 is at 1:30 in the video.