Community Members Hold Town Hall With Local Representatives on Immigration
Community members gathered in 262 Willard to have a discussion with local representatives about immigration and the recent executive orders on Thursday night.
The town hall session was moderated by the president of the Penn State College Democrats, Veronica Weyhrauch. The panel consisted of the Mayor of State College, Elizabeth Goreham, burrow council members Evan Myers and Jesse Barlow, and Laura Dininni from the Ferguson Township. Each member of the panel was free to respond to the five questions prepared by the moderator, as well as any questions or concerns raised by audience members.
“What’s steps have the borough and the surrounding townships taken in response to Trump’s executive orders?” Asked moderator Weyhrauch as the event began.
Mayor Goreham was the first to speak. She brought attention to the two resolutions passed by the burrow, commenting that both affirm the commitment to equality and inclusion. She put emphasis on wanting all residents to feel safe and welcome, regardless of citizenship. As well, informed the audience of the close working relationship between the burrow council and the immigrant rights clinic. Burrow council member Evan Myers discussed resolution 76, which was passed two months ago, that condemns discrimination in rhetoric or action in the burrows. Myers also briefly went into the relationship between local law enforcement and immigration laws.
“Immigration law is not the job of our local police.”
Council member Myers also went on to speak of how it is morally wrong not to help people, regardless of citizenship status. He attempted to further his point by relating it to the slave era in America with the analogy of turning away a runaway slave, and how if that is morally wrong then so is turning away immigrants.
“Some [people] can’t go home,” said council member Jesse Barlow when commenting on the problems faced by international students in light of the executive orders.
Council member Barlow extended argument of it not being the job of local police to enforce immigration laws by commenting that local police do not necessarily enforce every federal law. There is a difference between federal law and local responsibility. He highlighted that immigration is a federal responsibility, and that if local police enforce it in State College it would be hard to work with diverse communities within the area. As well, it would make people afraid to work with police and put them at risk for crimes being done onto them without action being taken.
“We don’t want any people in State College to feel vulnerable,” said Barlow.
The second question posed by the moderator was asking what steps the local government would like to take in response to the executive orders regarding immigration. Council member Myers stated that certain areas may get funding cut if they take a stand against the orders. or anything the goes along with immigration enforcement. However, most local services would be safe. Mayor Goreham stated that State College will wait till they can see the executive orders, so that they can then properly determine what to do to ensure democratic procedures prevail and continue to support the community.
“How does SB10 influence your decision on calling yourself a sanctuary city?” Asked Weyhrauch.
SB10, or Senate Bill 10, is the controversial bill that would stop municipalities from adopting sanctuary policies that refer to the refusal to comply to federal immigration laws. Mayor Goreham seemed rather unbothered by the bill.
“Ironically, there is a pretty big disconnect between local and state government.”
Council member Barlow stated that State College could be vulnerable due to funds being cut if we stayed a sanctuary city. However, it wouldn’t be a largely significant amount of money. Barlow also went on to comment that there is a trend of the state government taking power away from the local government on matters that should be decided locally. Dininni further Barlow’s argument on how being a sanctuary city is a local problem, given it is a bipartisan issue. She stated that local government and residents have a better understanding of their locality, and should make choices such as this one for themselves.
“How can students, and locals, pressure statewide officials to stand against Trumps orders?” Asked Weyhrauch.
“We have to embody democratic principles,” responded Mayor Goreham.
She proceeded to encourage students to speak out, contact their government officials, and support candidates for office if they want to see change. As well, Mayor Goreham even entertained the possibility of students running for local positions. She stated that the students at Penn State could create enormous change on a local level; even in just one election. She also went on to comment that students must stand for what they believe in, but to also not create a nice hostile environment while doing it.
“Any elected official responds to their constituents comments,” commented Myers.
He proceed to tell the audience that it is important to talk to contact your representatives and senators, because you can make a bigger impact on a local level. He furthered his point by mentioned SB3, a highly restrictive abortion legislation that was passed. The policies were never discussed with the citizens, which Myers said was the fear that they would not support the bill. So, it was passed quietly in the middle of the night, and now it affects people’s lives in a big way. Barlow went on to stress that if you aren’t from State College, to pressure officials in your hometown and the surrounding area to help further the process of creating change.
“Get to know your local elected official,” said Dininni.
She stressed the fact that you need to get to know local officials because they are close to you, which enables community members to create a dialogue so that local officials are more capable of representing the people around them. Leveraging your voice is vital in creating change.
The final question presented to the panel by the moderator was what steps are the burrow and the surrounding townships taking to help the communities effected by the problems caused by the immigration bans. Myers informed the audience that the burrow has gotten together with the immigration law center to help educate the community about those being impacted by the executive orders. He then discussed how even green card holders are scared due to the immigration ban. They fear they can’t come back after visiting family, or have family come visit them. The same fear is shared by some international students here at Penn State. As well, Myers discussed that those who ‘look different’ are being treated different and poorly, and that it must end.
“This isn’t what this country is about,” commented Myers.
Barlow went on to tell of how his career and life were positively impacted by immigrants. As well, he highlighted the fact that a good number of Penn State faculty are immigrants, and that without them, we may not receive the same education.
“Your Penn State diploma is more valuable because of immigration.”
Dininni went on to comment that because the executive orders are so broad, they capture a lot of different communities within America. As well, she went on to mention that immigration problems can also be agricultural problems. This is because immigrants make up a large portion of the agricultural industry, because Americans often won’t take the jobs.
“I’m concerned with the economic affects,” she commented.
The town hall session was then open for discussion with the audience. The first audience member to speak applauded the panel for standing for local power and containing ideological consistency, and then went on to ask what would happen if the federal government federalized the local government. Myers said that local officials simply can’t be federalized. As well, there has been no instance of local police being federalized. However, Myer’s stated that anything is possible in this day and age. Mayor Goreham commented that is was highly unlikely due to the amount of obstacles and local opposition that would occur. Dininni agreed, saying it was far too extreme of a measure, and that there would be a massive bipartisan uprising against something like that.
Another student commented on how local government is essentially powerless against the ICE, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and asked why they would risk funds getting cut by not enforcing immigration laws. Barlow stated that is is a major concern that illegal immigrants will not report crimes being done onto them because of their citizenship status, and no person should live in fear and not receive help when needed. Dininni commented that allowing people of any citizenship status to freely talk to the police when a crime occurs provides a safe environment and open a dialogue to show people that they are being supported by their local government. She also highlighted that while it’s important to be fiscally conscious as a local official, you must also balance that with having a safe community. Myers went on to comment that immigration is a financial and social issue. Just because funding might get cut does not mean people shouldn’t stand against a problem as big as this.
“Running a government is not a business, running a government is to protect the citizens,” stated Myers.
Then an altercation between Myers and a Trump supporter occurred. It was then followed by a student who questioned Myers’ earlier analogy of the immigration issue being similar to the slave era. Myers deemed it as a rhetorical question to emphasize the importance of the moral issues occurring at the present time. A student then asked if that meant Meyers believed to was acceptable to disobey laws in retaliation to the immigration ban. Myers stated that to disobey the law, you must know it. The comment was followed up by the student asking if that meant local government can pick and choose what laws to follow.
“You can pick and choose morality,” commented Myers.
Barlow stepped in and stated that the immigration laws don’t have the same force as something like a federal warrant. The immigration system is a civil system, and it isn’t binding in the same way. Cities aren’t necessarily compelled to obey them.
Another student raised the concerns of local police abusing powers, and questioned their decisions. Mayor Goreham stated that the local police support the resolutions the burrow has passed. As well, she stated that questioning citizenship breaks the trust a community member and the police force have, which is why the local police don’t do it.
“We have a wonderful police force,” Goreham commented.
A student asked about to specific level of funding, in order to understand the impact of defunding and the dollar value of our morals.
“They’re taking a stand to further encroach on our independence,” commented Goreham.
She said that money gets cut in the places that openly oppose what happens. She also informed the audience that the burrow has been receiving declining amounts of money for community development, and receives grants for local police. However, there was no specific monetary amount named. Myers stated that while funding being cut is possible, it’s extremely unlikely. From a practical standpoint, an adjunction would most likely occur. As well, some larger cities taking a stand will take the fight to the courts, which will allow us to see the possible outcome for State College.
A state college resident raised the problem that if 11 million people were taken out of the country, it would hurt the economy. He also mentioned that immigrants statistically commit crime significantly less than the native born. This was followed by a student calling Myers ignorant for using the slave era in comparison to the current immigration situation.
Myers commented that while he does not equate the severity of slavery to what is happening in America currently, he is comparing it to those early times where a slippery slope begins; he also stated that one must be vigilant to ensure such things don’t happen again. Barlow proceeded to step in to comment on another problem with the orders.
“These new orders are a solution in search of a problem.”
Barlow proceeded to acknowledge that boarding crossings are at the lowest they’ve been since the 1970’s, and yet people are suddenly concerned. He also stated that of the seven countries named in the executive order, none are responsible for terrorist attacks in the United States.
A student then raised the concern that illegal immigrants come from more than just Mexico, and enter the country in ways that aren’t border jumping. Barlow replied that most of the dialogue regarding illegal immigration is mainly about Mexico. The town hall session ended with a disagreement between the student who raised the question and the panelists.
Photo Credit: Madison Starr