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Immigration reform: Citizen forum set stage for civil discussion

Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester) logo Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester) 11/27/2019 Sarah Taddeo, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
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These days, it’s not common to see normal U.S. residents on different sides of the political aisle politely debate a hot button issue. 

But on Saturday, over 50 people from the 25th congressional district sat around tables to discuss their beliefs on immigration reform with each other, and with their Congressional representative, Rep. Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit. 

The 55 constituents were part of a group of 995 residents in the district who’d previously taken an online survey, called a “policymaking simulation,” detailing their views on policies around specific immigration issues, such as what to do about Dreamers and deterring illegal immigration. 

a group of people sitting at a desk: Rep. Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, speaks with Rochester area residents about immigration issues at the Citizen Panel Forum Saturday, hosted by Common Ground Solutions, Voice of the People and the Democrat and Chronicle. © Sarah Taddeo/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Rep. Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, speaks with Rochester area residents about immigration issues at the Citizen Panel Forum Saturday, hosted by Common Ground Solutions, Voice of the People and the Democrat and Chronicle.

These recommendations were collected after the survey respondents were briefed on the issues and asked to evaluate pro and con arguments for each policy option. 

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The survey’s results, revealed live to the 55-member group in the First Amendment Room at the Democrat and Chronicle building Saturday, showed local Republicans and Democrats shared similar beliefs on several policy choices. 

“This is a central issue to our nation,” said Morelle. “It’s part of our national DNA to allow other people to come here. But there are other incentives in the world that don’t necessarily bring people together and that’s the challenge.” 

The survey 

During the meeting, the group was able to raise further questions and hear Morelle’s thoughts about the findings. 

The survey and forum were initiated by Common Ground Solutions, a Rochester-based nonprofit focused on civil engagement and quality political discussion; and Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Voice of the People. University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation conducted the survey. 

“Our mission is to encourage people to first of all, learn more about issues that matter to them, and second, to listen actively when other people talk,” said Common Ground Founder Howard Konar. He is also the president of real estate firm Konar Properties.

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This process helps residents understand the difficulty of making a final policy decision amid myriad policy options out there, he said. It also illuminates how many positions U.S. residents actually agree on, even as policy measures are stalled by partisan upheaval in Washington. 

“80% of people favor an immediate path to citizenship for the Dreamers, and yet, year after year after year, nothing gets done,” he said. “It’s important to say to our representatives, ‘Maybe we can’t do everything, but we have to do some things.’”

The issues 

Highlighted issues around immigration reform included Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), visas for undocumented immigrants, the southern border and E-Verify, a program that, if mandated permanently across the nation, would require employers to verify employees’ legal work status in the U.S. 

On the question of providing legal status to "Dreamers," or children who came to the U.S. illegally, through DACA, local survey results reflected national numbers; 91% of local Democrats supported the policy, as compared to 71% of Republicans. Nationally, it was 92% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans.

The event was an opportunity for residents to argue their viewpoints and listen to others. Andrae Evans, 58, of Irondequoit, brought up what he saw as a double standard in American immigration policy — “We’ve designed a society that’s based on cheap labor, but then you complain that that cheap labor now wants to stay and benefit and contribute to our society,” he said. 

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Residents were in closer alignment over other measures, such as increasing guest worker H2B visas, or non-farm visas, from 66,000 to about 200,000 per year to address demands for temporary immigrant labor. Local Republicans supported it by 67%; local Democrats, 74%. 

Nationally, 73% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats were in favor of the idea. 

Ruth Brooks Ward, 63, of Rochester, was glad to have been part of the citizen’s group but wished there had been more information and data shared, specifically about immigration from countries besides those south of the U.S. border.

“It was kind of misleading for people,” she said.

The simulation was geared to mirror the debate in Congress over immigration measures at the southern border. 

The views expressed by residents in the 25th District were similar to those recorded in two national Nielsen Scarborough surveys of 4,635 voters.

To go through the policymaking simulation, go to www.vop.org/policymaking-simulations/immigration-reform-ny-25

The survey questionnaire with findings is available online at http://www.publicconsultation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Immigration_Quaire_NY25ONLY_1119.pdf

STADDEO@Gannett.com

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Immigration reform: Citizen forum set stage for civil discussion

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