With the midterm election dust settled, one of the questions that the new and returning politicians will have to face is the question of immigration.
The Topeka Center for Peace and Justice and the Washburn chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor society, sponsored a debate to address some of the issues. The event was titled “Border Crossing: The Immigration Debate in Contemporary Politics,” and was hosted Thursday, Oct. 28.
The major topics discussed included the conflicts over border fences, undocumented workers, national security and the costs of immigration as experienced in Kansas. Presenters at the event included Kelly White, ESL instructor for the Jackson Heights USD 335 District; Kim Morse, associate professor of history at Washburn and Lalo Munoz, director of El Centro of Topeka.
Morse was the first to present, and she discussed the history and demographics of immigrants primarily in Kansas. Morse discussed the effects of Hispanic immigrants to Kansas and their contribution to the state. Our Lady of Guadalupe was founded in 1914, which hosts the annual Fiesta Mexicana, a massive event that attracts hundreds of Topekans.
“By the 1920s, Mexican Americans established institutions of business throughout the state. Mexican American’s are Kansans,” said Morse, as she showed photos from the early to mid 1900s of immigrant workers in Kansas. The number of Hispanics in Kansas grew from 63,339 in 1980 to 263,307 in 2009.
“These are productive, entrepreneurial Kansans, not fringe Kansans, who are integral parts of our community and have been for almost a century,” said Morse.
White then spoke on how the majority of Hispanics in Kansas have proper documentation and those who do not are willing to work to improve their lives.
“In Holton, we have a small meat packing plant. The personnel manager at Holden’s does not target this population,” said White. “He puts an ad in the paper and it’s open to anybody that will apply. Guess who applies? The Hispanic, the Latinos, they are willing because of their situation in most cases, to work longer hours, to work for lower wages, not to complain, because what resources do they have? If they are here without proper documentation they are kind of stuck. And, if they do cause any trouble how many guys are waiting in line to take that job?”
He also spoke about how the government has made it a long process to come to the United States legally. Those who decide to come to the country without proper documentation are provided with work because their employers don’t have strict enough laws for documenting workers.
“They also come, in my opinion, because current immigration laws don’t really punish people that come,” said White. “Worst case scenario is deportation. If you are deported your plane ticket is paid for, you go back with your family, and if things don’t work out what do you do? Does the ten year ban mean anything? If you came in without legal documentation in the first place, then probably not. You come back and do it again.”
The last speaker was Munoz. El Centro helps Hispanic immigrants with the documentation process as well as translation work. Munoz told stories of immigrants who wanted to come to the United States but their wait period was 10-18 years.
“We do work to make sure that Latino issues and concerns are heard,” said Munoz.
His insight provided a human touch to the issue, discussing how difficult it is for Hispanics to legally immigrate.
After all three presenters spoke, the audience joined in on the discussion.