Hans von Spakovsky, The Heritage Foundation’s manager on the election law reform initiative, and Bryan Caplan, economics professor at George Mason University, debated if President Donald Trump’s immigration platform harms the United States in an event hosted by The Michigan Review on Friday night.

In his opening statement, Caplan attacked many of the actions Trump has taken against immigration. Caplan explained the economic benefits of immigration and that immigrants do not commit crimes at the rate that Trump has said they do. Caplin said since immigration increases total production, the gains nationally tend to outweigh the losses. 

Spakovsky, however, advocated for the actions taken by the Trump administration, including laws that need to be enforced — especially for those that enforce legal immigration.

“You often hear the terms that we have a broken system," Spakovsky said. "We don’t have a broken system. We have a very complex set of laws governing immigration and who we allow in and who we don’t allow in. The problem has been for decades is that the political will to enforce the law was not there in Washington."

Undeclared student Dylan Calewarts was disappointed the event didn’t explicitly address if Trump’s immigration plan is hurting the United States, but appreciated the topics discussed.

“I thought it was great that the issues were being talked about from a policy angle, not from a personality … angle. I would say that the point was struck home that the Constitution gives 100 percent immigration and naturalization authority to Congress and the only power the president has is what Congress has given him,” Calewarts said.

The term “illegal aliens,” Spakovsky added, is the legal term used for illegal immigrants, so they should be called such. The deviation from the legal term, he said, is a way for those who want to enforce immigration law to be discredited.

“The reason this has happened, that it’s supposedly politically incorrect to use the correct legal term, is because many people want to blur the line between illegal immigration and legal immigration … the whole point of trying to blur that line is so that people who want to make sure that our laws are enforced against illegal immigration can be called racists,” Spakovsky said.

Caplan argued law enforcement officials practice selective enforcement every day, giving the example of not giving a ticket to individuals going 56 mph on a 55-mph road. Caplan said this should also be applied to those who broke the law when crossing the border illegally.

“Illegal immigration should be stopped by making it legal," Caplan said. "Maybe as Hans suggests, (resources) should go to trying to find criminal aliens instead, and violent criminal aliens, rather than worrying about people who are just coming over the borders to maybe work on a farm. And what’s the big deal? Why is that any worse than someone driving 56 miles per hour?” 

Spakovsky and Caplan debated the issue of the travel ban put in place by Trump, including its legality and justification. Caplan argued against the executive action, saying it’s very likely to be a Muslim ban, while Spakovsky argued the move was calculated, despite what many of its critics have said.

“There is a long process that you have to go through to get (a tourist visa from Iraq). Based upon the character that Trump has revealed, there is every reason to think this is just another effort to demagogue, to act like he really cares about a serious problem,” Caplan said.

“The countries that were picked, yeah, some of them were Muslim countries, but that’s because they’re (state sponsors of terrorists). The idea that this was somehow arbitrary and not correctly done is just wrong,” Spakovsky countered.

Spakovsky said illegal immigrants cost the U.S. taxpayer a great deal of money each year through not paying taxes and receiving federal and state assistance.

“Open borders where anyone can come in would cause tremendous chaos, and the cost of illegal immigration is very great," Spakovsky said. "A couple of years ago, The Heritage Foundation actually did a study, and they looked at what would be the cost to American taxpayers if we provided amnesty to the 11 to 12 million illegal aliens who are in the country according to DHS. The net cost to the American taxpayer … would be $6.3 trillion on top of the debt that we already have."

The debate concluded with questions from the audience, who challenged both speakers’ views. Audience members asked about the rule of law and respecting those who have become naturalized citizens and what some regard as a lack of due process for undocumented residents.

Earlier last week, controversial speaker Charles Murray, author of “The Bell Curve,” which asserts differences in IQ based on race, spoke at the University of Michigan. The event was disrupted by student protesters, who played music, chanted and read newspapers while Murray spoke. 

LSA senior Jake Thorne, Michigan Review editor in chief, said he was happy with how the debate went, especially following the protests at the Charles Murray event.

“We and the University had talked a lot about whether there would be protests, especially with the Charles Murray event going on and things like that," Thorne said. "We just took every precaution to make sure people were able to exercise their freedom of speech, exercise their concerns, but we wanted it to be done in a safe, and as equitable manner as possible.” 

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