David McNew/Getty Images
A metal fence constructed by National Guardsmen forms a barrier in the desert that runs along the U.S.-Mexico border east of San Luis, Ariz.
A metal fence constructed by National Guardsmen forms a barrier in the desert that runs along the U.S.-Mexico border east of San Luis, Ariz. David McNew/Getty Images
Produced for broadcast by WNYC, New York.
The next debate, titled "Russia Is Becoming Our Enemy Again," takes place on Oct. 30.
In the past decade, a large influx of immigrants — many Hispanic and many illegal — has expanded from traditional polyglot cities into the suburbs, exurbs and even rural areas of America. This has produced a backlash, especially since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made immigration a national security issue.
There are now an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. What should the U.S. do with them? The nation is engaged in a heated and divisive debate, one that crosses all lines of party and ideology.
The Bush administration, business groups and some immigrant advocates argue that the U.S. economy demands immigrant labor, and by denying those workers legal status, the government is fostering a shadow sub-class subject to abuse. Restrictionist groups contend that so many illegal workers depress wages and are causing a culture clash. They oppose legalization and argue that tougher enforcement measures can slowly force these immigrants out of the country.
For two years, Congress has debated and failed to pass a sweeping immigration overhaul. More and more states and localities are stepping into the void with their own proposals, though many have been blocked by the courts as unconstitutional.
A panel of experts took on the issue Oct. 9 as part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. series. The proposition was "Let's Stop Welcoming Undocumented Immigrants." In an Oxford-style debate modeled on a program begun in London in 2002, three panelists argued for the proposition and three against.
The debate was held at the Asia Society and Museum in New York City and was moderated by John Hockenberry, a former reporter with both National Public Radio and NBC News, and co-host of an upcoming public radio program produced by WNYC.
In a vote before the debate, 42 percent of the audience supported the proposition and 34 percent opposed it, while 24 percent said they were undecided. After the debate, the audience voted 60 percent in support, 37 percent against and 3 percent undecided.
Highlights from the debate: