Policy Dialogue: Immigration from Three Perspectives

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On September 29th, MPPs traveled to DC for one of our annual Policy Dialogues. Policy Dialogues are part of the Policy in Practice section of the MPP curriculum and offer students the opportunity to have productive discussions with professionals in many different sectors of the policy space.  This Dialogue focused on the hot-button issue of immigration policy. As this is a complex and polarizing subject, we were excited to hear from three experts whose organizations span the political spectrum.

Carlos Guevara, Senior Immigration Policy Advisor at UnidosUS on the importance of facts and communication


Source: UnidosUS

Our first stop of the day was at UnidosUS, formerly National Council of La Raza (NCLR), where we met with Senior Immigration Policy Advisor Carlos Guevara. UnidosUS’s self-stated purpose is “to create a world where there are no barriers for Latinos to reach their fullest potential” through “a combination of research, advocacy, programs, and a national network of nearly 300 community-based Affiliate organizations across the country.” (UnidosUS)

Carlos emphasized that UnidosUS and advocacy organizations like it often concentrate on multiple policy issues. For instance, only 20% of their work is directly in immigration. The other 80% is comprised of advocacy and research in health, education, and wealth-building for the communities they serve. With this in mind, one of our key takeaways from this session was that policy issues are rarely singular in nature–instead, they are usually deeply interconnected with other seemingly tangential issues.

Another important lesson we learned in this session is the necessity of having strong communication skills when working in the policy space. Writing, social media competence, and a general ability to communicate effectively are essential to getting a message across to the wide variety of stakeholders involved in an issue like immigration policy, no matter if you are a behind-the-scenes researcher or public spokesperson.

In the spirit of communication, Carlos also suggested that we as policy professionals always remember to return to the facts when advocating for the causes we believe in–particularly when working in spaces where emotions can supersede informed action. Accordingly, he believes that part of our job as policy professionals is to help create a space where people on various sides of the aisle can have productive conversations. This involves building relationships and focusing on being both personally and professionally authentic when advocating for your organization in Washington. While some people consider the vote to be the key currency on the Hill, Carlos reminded us that the key currency is actually authenticity. 

Matthew O’Brien, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) on the relationship of immigration to national security

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Source: FAIR

Our next speaker was kind enough  to meet us at the W&M DC Center for a lively discussion about conservative-leaning views on immigration policy. Matthew O’Brien, Director of Research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), focused on the issue of immigration as it relates to national security. FAIR’s general stance is that the US government must make “tough decisions” regarding the types and numbers of immigrants allowed into the country each year. These tough decisions, according to O’Brien and FAIR, are crucial to the safety and prosperity of Americans from all walks of life.

Like Guevara, O’Brien emphasized the importance of moderating the effects of emotion when discussing immigration in the policy space. It was interesting to see how policy professionals from two different sides of the political spectrum found common ground when it comes to the importance of fact-based communication.

Paul Schlegel, Managing Director of Public Policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, on immigration and industry

Our third and final guest also met us at the DC center. Paul Schlegel from the American Farm Bureau Federation gave our students a rather sobering view of the hugely productive impact immigrants, undocumented and otherwise, have on the well-being of the United States’ agricultural industry. He made it a point to say that without the labor of undocumented immigrants, the agricultural industry would likely collapse.

Schlegel is currently lobbying congress to approve a program alternative to the H2A temporary visa program (a seasonal visa program that gives undocumented people license to work for a set number of months) that allows these workers to work year-round (thus providing stability and legalization) and allows employers to hire with greater transparency. He made it very clear to those in attendance that getting such a program to be accepted as whole by both parties has been incredibly difficult. This portion of the talk gave our students a realistic view of the political and partisan challenges policy professionals face.

Our students truly enjoyed hearing from all three speakers, and we are wholly grateful for the time they took to discuss  immigration policy and professional conduct in the policy space with us.

Next up: a Policy Dialogue in our Commonwealth capital Richmond, VA! We will be sure to post a recap of that dialogue here, so check back soon. Also, please don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram (@wmpublicpolicy), and LinkedIn.

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