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Experts Debate Solutions To Immigration Problems

Candace Braun

The illegal immigration problem were debated among experts with diverse backgrounds last Thursday during a forum held at the Princeton Public Library.

Deportations of immigrants are continuing to increase both in the U.S. and New Jersey, where more than 2,000 immigrants were arrested in 2004, according to Maria Juega, chair of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which co-sponsored the event.

"These individuals do not see themselves as criminals. They are working, law-abiding men and women with families here," she said, adding that even those who find it hard to live here would rather be in this country than somewhere else.

"They're here and they're not going anywhere," she added.

The Hon. Douglas H. Palmer, the first African-American mayor of Trenton, spoke on how to integrate, serve, and empower immigrant communities. He told his audience that there are 27 ancestral groups living in Trenton and "they all enrich our culture."

The mayor of Trenton since 1990, Mr. Palmer is the recipient of the City Liveability Award, and president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors.

He said he felt that immigrants are victims in our country, having to work 16-hour days and reap no benefits, including insurance to cover their children's health care.

He suggested that under-the-table cash payments to immigrants are part of the reason they frequently become victims of robbery. And, because they fear police will deport them, the crimes often go unreported.

"It is wrong to encourage people to be here for the cheap labor, but deny them the normal rights of society," said the mayor. "Their contributions far outweigh their detriment to our society."

Carol M. Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, as well as the founder of the Veritas Institute, agreed with Mr. Palmer, and said she believes that more people should be hired to process the requests for working visas, but that this is not done because illegal immigrants help big business: "I think we can do something about illegal immigration if we want to."

Ms. Swain said she has "nothing but compassion for those who have risked coming here," but argued that if we have laws against working in this country illegally, they should be upheld: "There's a part of me that says if you are working here illegally, you should have trouble sleeping at night....We shouldn't encourage people to do something illegal."

Where is the Fault?

Some speakers put the problems with immigration on regular U.S. citizens.

Barrie Peterson, co-director for the Institute on Work at Seton Hall University, asked the library audience if those who disapproved of immigrants living and working here would be willing to pay more for construction workers, convenience store employees, and people to do various yard duties.

"If you're not, than you're a hypocrite," he said, since most of these positions are filled by illegal immigrants who are paid under the table.

He added that many Americans do not encourage their children to take on these positions when they go out into the work force, which means that there is no competition for immigrants to take these jobs.

"We're too good for that work and our children are too good for it too?....You can't have it both ways," he said.

Mr. Peters asked for a show of hands to see how many people in the room were Native American; no one raised his hand.

"Now see: we are a nation of immigrants," he said.

The forum will be rebroadcast on Patriot Media's public access cable channel, TV30, on Saturday, May 28, at 8:30 a.m., and on Tuesday, May 31, at 11 a.m. Additional replays will be scheduled for June.

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