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ND Forum panelists express frustration over lack of federal immigration reform

Author: Arts and Letters


A panel of government and religious leaders participating Monday (Oct. 8) in the third annual Notre Dame Forum expressed differing views on immigration but similar frustrations about Congress’ inability to pass meaningful immigration reform.

The two-hour forum, titled “Immigration: A Notre Dame Forum,” drew about 3,000 students, faculty, staff and others to the Joyce Center and was moderated by Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.

“Immigration touches every corner of our country,” Suarez said in his introductory remarks. “Our panel today is more than up to the task of recognizing and confronting these issues.”

In his opening remarks, U.S. Sen. Melquiades Rafael “Mel” Martinez, R-Fla., who emigrated from Cuba at age 15 and is the first Cuban-American to serve in the U.S. Senate, emphasized the fact that he is the only immigrant in the Senate and that he recognizes a crisis in confidence in the U.S. government.

“We must have national conversations to enact comprehensive legislation as a nation harkening our history as a nation of immigrants and as a nation of laws,” he said. “A comprehensive approach at the federal level is what is needed.”

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, leader of the largest diocese in the United States and advocate for the protection of immigrants, joked that he refers to the Catholic church as “Immigrants Are Us.”

“It’s a humanitarian issue,” he stated. “Since the 1780s, the Catholic Church has stood with and walked with every wave of immigrants. We will be with the immigrants every way today and in the years to come.”

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano addressed the realities of immigrants crossing the border between her state and Mexico on a daily basis.

“We are at the forefront of the illegal immigration debate,” she said. “We need better documentation and better border security. But those who say that we can simply build a wall to handle immigrants have never been to the border. You show me a 15-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 16-foot ladder.”

She added: “The really hard part of this debate is what to do with the 12 million people who are already here who mow our lawns, clean our houses, cook our meals. What we need is a system for (illegal immigrants) to come out of the shadows perhaps to pay a fine, to learn English, to wait in line. This, I don’t believe, is amnesty. But to not do this is to effectively have silent amnesty.”

Republican Mayor Louis J. Barletta of Hazelton, Pa., who introduced the Illegal Immigration Relief Act aimed at discouraging undocumented immigrants from settling in his city, noted crimes committed by illegal aliens, threats to the local police and gang graffiti.

“Illegal immigration has changed our lives,” he said. “Senior citizens no longer sit on their porches, and parents don’t allow children to play on playgrounds.”

Barletta cited the federal government’s lack of action on the immigration issue.

“Our city’s small budget can’t withstand the strain illegal aliens have caused,” he said. “It’s in the red, and I’m going to have to cut services for law-abiding citizens. The federal government’s inaction has caused cities like us to have to protect ourselves.”

Martinez expressed frustration over what has transpired in Hazleton.

“In any group there are those who want to work hard and those who are troublemakers,” he stated. “By bringing immigrants out of the shadows, we will be allowed to heal as a nation.”

Many students and faculty who attended the forum prepared for it by taking an on-line “course” on the various facets of immigration, including a reading list, as well as selected articles on the economics of immigration, Catholic social teaching on immigration, and the current immigration debate in the U.S.

Established by Father Jenkins in 2005, the Notre Dame Forum in future years will continue to bring world leaders to campus to discuss their experiences and offer advice to students preparing to enter the public debate and shape the professional world. Last year’s forum addressed the global health crisis. The 2005 event focused on the role of religious faith in a plural world.

The forum was taped by C-SPAN for broadcast at a time to be announced.

Originally published by Shannon Chapla at on October 08, 2007.