Political clubs debate immigration


Charlie Wolfson

For a night, the national debate on immigration was crammed into an International Village classroom.

Northeastern University College Democrats and Northeastern University College Republicans sparred for more than an hour in a debate moderated by the Northeastern Debate Society, resulting in a 2-1 win for the Democrats.

The Republicans frequently pointed out the similarities between the two sides’ views, while the Democrats dismissed such similarities as unrepresentative of national Republican thinking. Each time the Republicans voiced moderate points, the Democrats said they did not align with Trump or Congressional Republicans.

“I think the main point of this debate was that the Northeastern University College Republicans agree with the Democrats more than they agree with Trump or Republicans in Congress,” said Jake Margolin, one of the Democratic debaters, in an interview with The News.

Jack Steil, one of the Republican debaters, said the biggest disagreement of the night was over what the national Republican policies are, not the immigration issues themselves.

The debate was divided into three sections: border security, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and non-DACA undocumented immigrants. The judges deemed that the Democrats won the border security and non-DACA sections, and the Republicans won the DACA section.


On DACA, the program Trump is trying to suspend which gives nearly 700,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children the right to live in the country, the debaters exhibited a lack of clarity on Trump’s policies. Margolin and Yael Sheinfeld, the other Democratic debater, voiced their disgust over the idea of removing DACA recipients, or Dreamers, from communities.

“As far as them not wanting to deport people, let’s be clear what happens if DACA isn’t renewed and one of them goes in for a driver’s license,” Margolin said. “They could be deported. It’s that simple. If you don’t give them this status, they’re constantly living in fear that any contact with the federal government could lead to them getting deported.”

The Republicans said they didn’t want to “rip” innocent people out of their homes.

“We didn’t say they have to leave,” said Noah Tagliaferri, a Republican debater. “They can continue their lives while in line [for legal status]. Nobody is saying rip them out of their homes … neither is Trump.”

Tagliaferri and Steil said they favor a merit-based approach to immigration, one in which each individual immigrant is judged on how “beneficial” they are to the country. If this causes a split on a family line, Steil said, that family would have to make a “family decision.”

Margolin repeatedly accused the Republicans of misrepresenting their national party throughout the night. Margolin said it was unclear if the NUCR debaters were representing the views of themselves, Trump, the GOP, or some combination of the three.

Margolin said the Republicans’ idea to simply have them wait “in line” for legal status or citizenship did not represent the reality of the system currently in place. Without DACA status, Margolin said, undocumented people would get deported in the current system.

“As far as the idea of nobody is arguing to rip these people out of their homes, that’s absurd,” Margolin said of a key point made by the Republicans. “I watched the Republican party, over the last three years, vote for politicians across the country who are very, very extreme on deportation policy.”

Margolin said he’s glad Tagliaferri and Steil don’t want to “rip” people out of their homes, but that the Republican policies don’t reflect that.

“I don’t know why a Republican Congress couldn’t pass that [DACA extension],” he said.

Path to citizenship

The two sides agreed on the idea of deporting undocumented immigrants convicted of violent crimes or drug distribution. The Republicans proposed a long process for the millions of undocumented non-DACA immigrants in the United States to achieve citizenship, involving a seven-year probationary period: A probationary step to legalization, not citizenship, during which any felony or drug distribution would result in deportation; following the probation, a person could be given permanent residency and a spot at the back of the line to apply for citizenship.

“This seven-year probationary period would allow workers who are being exploited for cheap labor to come out of the shadows and come under the protections of other workers,” Tagliaferri said.

He said this plan must be coupled with increased border security and the criminalization of sanctuary cities.

Sheinfeld again pointed out that her opponents were straying from their national leaders toward the left.

“Again I would like to thank you for essentially taking the Democratic stance on immigration,” Sheinfeld said.

Sheinfeld argued on behalf of undocumented immigrants, saying they contribute to the U.S. economy and don’t drain social services. Tagliaferri rebutted by saying that Sheinfeld failed to take into account the cost of public education. Margolin volleyed this argument back by saying that education is a long-term investment and that paying for people’s education will result in net gains for society.

“They consistently pay more than they take out,” Sheinfeld said.

A major split between the sides was on how to determine who gets to remain in the United States. The Democrats favored a lenient approach in which only violent criminals or drug distributors are deported; the Republicans wanted a system where each immigrant is evaluated holistically and a decision is made based on their value as an “asset” to the country.

“These people are committing less crimes than American citizens,” Sheinfield said, “and are model people in the U.S. … Looking back on it, these people should be living in this community. The facts do back that up.”

Margolin questioned the Republicans’ proposal to admit people based on their “benefit” to the country, saying a host of problems would accompany such a system.

“Who gets to decide and interpret which people are to the benefit of the country?” Margolin said. “I have a friend who dropped out of high school to start a successful business. If you looked at him on paper a month before he started that business, you might not have thought this guy was a benefit to society, taking care of his mom and his sister.”

Margolin said he was also suspicious that this standard would be unfairly enforced on lines of race, class, economic status and gender.

“We’re doing policy that affects millions of people,” Steil said in response to Margolin’s example, “not just someone’s friend.”

Steil then pointed to other industrialized countries who use similar approaches like Canada, Germany and other “bastions of immigration.”

“We want to take an individual look,” Steil said. “We don’t want to just say, ‘Hey, you were here on June 15, 2012, so you get to stay.’ We want to look at people and say, ‘You provide qualifications that would be useful to the United States. You do not. You go. You stay. It’s as simple as that.”

Though he reiterated his belief in a merit-based system, Steil didn’t explain exactly how that merit, or those “benefits to the United States,” would be judged.

Border security

On border security, the Democrats wanted “fiscally responsible” measures, such as using advanced technology like drones to identify illegal crossings, while the Republicans wanted, among other things, Trump’s border wall.

Sheinfeld said the wall is problematic practically, fiscally and ethically.

“It’s not reasonable in terms of securing the full length of the border, due to geography and eminent domain,” she said. “We also believe it’s a waste of money and resources with little foreseeable change.”

She said more than half of undocumented immigrants are not the product of illegal crossings, but are people who were here on visas whose documents expired. The wall would have no affect on that population. She took issue with the symbolism of the wall, too.

“The wall acts as a symbol of protection and security,” she said, “giving Americans a false sense of security based on nationalism. It’s inefficient, irresponsible, unnecessary and altogether misguided.”

True to the Republicans’ night-long pattern, Tagliaferri followed that up by looking for middle ground.

“I think we actually agree on a lot of those points,” he said. “When I asked for wall funding, I wasn’t saying no to drones. I think you hit a great point with visa overstays … I think you’re misrepresenting our points. I think it’s bold to claim that we’re doing this out of racism.”

Contrary to Tagliaferri’s rebuttal, Sheinfeld didn’t mention racism. This is emblematic of the night as a whole: Both sides made statements crafted along the national discourse among Democrats and Republicans, resulting in a debate that lacked some degree of genuine discussion.

Editor’s Note: Noah Tagliaferri previously wrote for The News’ political blog. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misquoted a statement by Jake Margolin. He said the College Republicans agreed with Democrats more than President Trump or Congressional Republicans.