Student political clubs talk immigration policy in heated debate

Junior political science and psychology major Alejandra Chavez, left, and sophomore political science major Daniel Espiritu, right, discuss immigration at a heated debate April 11 while junior business administration major Joseph Pocassangre, junior political science major Alexis Sutterman and freshman political science and peace studies major Max Lopez look on. Photo by Melissa Zhuang

Chapman’s political clubs took part in a heated debate April 11 that covered controversial immigration topics, including California’s sanctuary state bill, which caused conflict at an April 10 Orange City Council meeting.

The moderators reminded speakers to keep comments focused on the debate rather than a political party or speaker, as the discussion also included President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Trump’s travel ban.
Representatives from political clubs like the Chapman Democrats, Chapman Republicans, Alternatives in Democracy, and Young Americans for Liberty participated in the event in Argyros Forum. Moderators ended the debate a few minutes early to prevent speakers from continuing to argue.

Evan Richardson, a junior economics major in the audience, noticed the tension.

“(This is) what free speech is about: taking ideas that you agree with and don’t agree with and just picking them apart,” Richardson said. “The people (on stage) had a lot of courage, because it was definitely a heated environment.”

Tyler Ferrari, a member of Young Americans for Liberty and the lead Civic Engagement assistant in charge of organizing the debate, said that the topic of immigration was chosen because of its relevance to national and local politics.

Students Melissa Gutierrez and Nate Hoskin, who are members of Civic Engagement, moderated the debate.

“Immigration has been a hot-button issue for the last 20 years and has climbed to new heights with Donald Trump in office,” Gutierrez said before the debate.

The wall

Alternatives in Democracy, Chapman Democrats and Young Americans for Liberty all opposed Trump’s proposed wall along the southern border of the U.S., while the Chapman Republicans stood in favor, arguing that the wall represents U.S. power and would help fight against illegal immigration.

We need a wall to make sure only people of merit can come in.”

“We need a wall to make sure only people of merit can come in,” Thomas Roche, a speaker for Chapman Republicans, said during the debate. Young Americans for Liberty argued that walls have failed to work in the past, while Alternatives in Democracy and Chapman Democrats said that the wall would be ineffective and too costly.

“People are going to come,” said Joseph Pocasangre, a member of Chapman Democrats. “Let’s help them come here legally. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Sanctuary state bill

Students also debated a bill that made California a sanctuary state in 2017 and was a controversial part of the April 10 Orange City Council meeting, where council members voted 3-2 that Orange wouldn’t comply with certain sections of the bill.

Speakers for Young Americans for Liberty argued that deportation is a matter for the federal government to decide and shouldn’t be enforced by local or state officials. The Chapman Republicans argued that sanctuary cities and states have higher crime rates due to illegal immigrants living there.

The club cited the decline of crime in Phoenix, Arizona, after the city rejected its sanctuary status, though journalism fact-checking site PolitiFact has categorized that claim as “half true.”

Daniel Espiritu, a member of Alternatives in Democracy, said that undocumented people are less likely to commit crimes.

“If you are an American citizen and you commit a crime, you will face jail time and you will go to prison,” Espiritu said. “The same thing happens to undocumented people – only after serving their sentence, they are deported.”


The clubs agreed that Congress should replace DACA – but the more liberal clubs said that the policy, which allows immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to avoid deportation, should remain in place.

“More than half of the undocumented immigrants have been here for over a decade,” said Alexis Sutterman, a Chapman Democrats speaker. “They have already made their lives here.”

More than half of the undocumented immigrants have been here for over a decade. They have already made their lives here.”

Chapman Republicans members proposed the idea of using protection for immigrants already in the country as a potential bargaining tool for those hesitant about the concept of a physical border.

“(The Republican Party) will give amnesty (to illegal immigrants) if there is a wall,” Roche said.

Travel ban

The night’s final topic was Trump’s travel ban, a measure that Chapman Republicans cited as a necessary measure to strengthen national security and prevent terrorism.

“We’re basing political policy on things that are statistically very unlikely,” Ferrari said in opposition to the club’s stance.

Chapman Democrats and Alternatives in Democracy agreed that the travel ban – which limits travel into the U.S. from Muslim-majority countries such as Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan – would not actually prevent terrorism.

“As long as (immigrants from the Middle East) pose no threat to our national security, which the vast majority of them don’t, they should be allowed into the U.S.,” Pocasangre said.

Inter-club debates have been hosted by Chapman’s Civic Engagement for about four years, Ferrari said, but this is the first year the group will host more than one political debate. On April 25, clubs will discuss topics ranging from student debt to gun control.