The event was organized by Austin Ramsey, a senator in the Student Government Association, and Adam Rosenbalm, a finance student, and was sponsored by the office of Leadership and Civic Engagement.
The debate was conducted using parliamentary debate style, with a resolution proposed and speakers presenting arguments for or against the resolution. The debate topic was whether or not the U.S. should adopt an “entirely merit-based immigration policy.”
The night started with a quick introduction from Ramsey. He welcomed and thanked those in attendance for participating in the “town hall” debate. Approximately 30 people ranging in ages and background were in the audience.
Lawson took over from there and laid out the rules and actions of the debate. One rule that she was adamant about was the aspect of fun. She said that debate does not mean people have to argue without discourse their position, but should believe the stance they take.
“You can talk about anything in life as long as you do it with a spirit of fun,” said Lawson
The first speaker, Robert, was in affirmation of the resolution that the U.S. should adopt an immigration policy of an entirely merit based immigration system. He presented an argument that highlighted statistics arguing that mass immigration continues to increase the poverty rate in the U.S.
The next speaker was in opposition to that, and presented an argument that focused on economics with underlying tones of xenophobia and racism. The speaker was Austin Cable, a student at ETSU. He argued that the stance that immigration hurts the economy has roots in racism.
The debate continued like this with different people presenting different arguments. This was an open debate and members of the audience were invited to speak. One such person was an immigrant from Zimbabwe, who shared her family’s story about their struggle to immigrate to different countries. Issues with the “American Dream” and problems with labor laws in the U.S. were raised as part of the immigration debate.
Ramsey said that events like this are important because people’s beliefs are influenced by many different aspects. The structure of this debate focused on why people believe the way they do with am emphasis on feeling. There was data presented, but people humanized the statistics by sharing a personable story to relate the information in a different way.
Lawson said that the night was a success because individuals shared what they learned. She said that ultimately was the goal of the night. She said the important thing to take away from the debate was a deeper understanding of another’s viewpoint and why.
“Civility, that is the theme of the whole week, and just the amount and exchange of information, no one is leaving here without respecting each other,” said Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock. “I would like to see this process taken to Congress, to the General Assembly and I will take it to city hall here in Johnson City.”
The night concluded with a feeling that immigration needs to be restructured. How may still be up to debate.
Most in the audience and the speakers stayed away from the wall debate and the left-right debate. Many walked away agreeing that something needs to be changed. The spectrum of change presented was that from open borders to an entirely merit-based policy.