In the spring of 2008, the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, in collaboration with the Marathon County Public Library (MCPL), the Kettering Foundation, and the Wisconsin Humanities Council, sponsored The New Challenges of American Immigration: What Should We Do?—a series of National Issues Forums (NIF)-style town hall meetings. From January to March 2008, over 139 citizens attended the public dialogues held in the nine MCPL locations of Edgar, Athens, Marathon, Spencer, Stratford, Hatley, Mosinee, Rothschild and Wausau. In addition, a student forum was held on the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County campus.
The intent of the forums was to address some of the basic tensions underlying the debate over current and future U.S. immigration policy, including these questions: Do the costs of our immigration policy outweigh the benefits? If change is necessary, how will we arrive at a manageable strategy, and what are the major tensions and stumbling blocks to creating a workable national policy? What does the current status of U.S. immigration policy mean for Wisconsin, and what changes are in the best interests of central Wisconsin?
The NIF–style deliberations (which emphasize civil discourse, multiple viewpoints, and the weighing of benefits, challenges and trade-offs) grappled with various tensions surrounding illegal immigration that included:
- Challenges faced by employers regarding undocumented workers vs. empathy for the living conditions and status of illegal immigrants
- Justice and respect for the law vs. the desire to pursue “the American Dream”
- The contributions of illegal labor towards the American standard of living vs. the attendant demands made on American social systems
By examining these tensions, and listening respectfully to all voices, forum participants in this series agreed on these common understandings:
- Current policies on immigration are broken, unfair, and unacceptable
- Americans value individuality but also cultural unity; therefore, all Americans should uphold the concept and practices of democracy, our Constitution, and our language.
- A humanitarian as well as an economic impulse—not unexamined fears—must generate workable changes in current immigration policies
- We must enforce the policies that we formulate, out of respect for the law and in fairness to all citizens.
These (among other) possible action steps were suggested at the conclusion of the forums:
- Create a government-sponsored program for employer mentorship programs
- Create a guest worker and/or amnesty program, which could result in an economic net profit
- Expand the global dialogue about the problem and explore policies for stimulating foreign economies to stem the tide of emigration
- Education is always part of the solution