A Penn Undergraduate Law Journal panel about immigration Monday included six conservative speakers, prompting criticism among some attendees for not featuring viewpoints of those in favor of immigration.
One panelist at the event was Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Somebody who doesn’t belong here — who has broken the law to get here — is a trespasser,” Krikorian said at the event when asked whether undocumented immigrants should be entitled to benefits provided to citizens. “If somebody breaks into my house, I don’t have to feed them dinner.”
College junior and attendee Elsa Wefes-Potter said it is important to include a balance of perspectives in immigration debates.
“To actually have a productive conversation, it’s not having six people all of the same perspective with the furthest-left person declaring himself as center-right,” Wefes-Potter said. “While I think that having conversations about immigration in the current age is really important, it needs to be done respectfully and the bare minimum is that people who are actually living that experience are an active part of the conversation.”
College sophomore and Penn Undergraduate Law Journal Director of Programming and Communications Joseph Ravenna, who served as the moderator of the event, said the journal sent out several dozen requests to potential panelists, ultimately making their decisions based on cost and scheduling.
“We made a significant effort to ask people from both sides of the aisle," Ravenna said. "It just so happened that we got people that seemed to be leaning one way, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles."
At the event, titled "Is Immigration a Right?," the six men with backgrounds in immigration law from academic, legal, and advocacy perspectives all agreed immigration to the United States is not an inherent right.
About 40 people attended the event and heard the panelists discuss issues including birthright citizenship, fiscal impacts of immigration, ways the United States should decide who is permitted to enter the country, and what rights should be provided for those who are in the country without documentation.
“I think that there is no inherent right [to immigration], but the United States has recognized political rights as part of our jurisprudence since the very beginning,” said panelist David Spaulding, a lawyer at the Philadelphia office of immigration law firm Green and Spiegel.
Following about an hour of prepared questions, the event switched to a town hall format. Audience members wrote questions which were screened by Penn Undergraduate Law Journal members before being passed to the panelists.
In response to a question on climate change refugees, Krikorian said, “Climate change will happen — if it does happen — slowly and gradually. It will not be a question of 16% of Bangladesh being underwater in a year.”
Wefes-Potter was motivated to interject, citing an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that up to 1 billion people could be displaced by 2050 due to climate change.
“I do think in an intellectual discussion we do need to be basing the figures [on] the facts," she said.
The back-and-forth was cut off in order to maintain the format of the panel. Ravenna said that while it would have been interesting to have more interaction between the audience and the panel, the main goal of the event was to provide information on immigration's legal issues rather than giving a platform for political opinions.
College freshman Jay Allen said this goal was achieved and there was much to be learned for those in attendance.
“I feel like whether you were someone on the left, [a] moderate, or the right you had a chance to learn something new,” Allen said.
Immigration continues to be a hot-button issue around the country and at Penn, days after student protests led Penn to shut down a Perry World House event where former Immigrations and Custom Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan was scheduled to speak.
UPDATE: In a subsequent email to The Daily Pennsylvanian, David Spaulding disputed the characterization of his viewpoint on immigration as conservative. He also wrote that his law firm's approach to immigration is not conservative, and clarified that he and colleague Stephen Antwine, who also appeared on the panel, were not representing the firm when they spoke at the panel.
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