Students discuss practicality of illegal immigration bill
February 23rd, 2011
Lincoln, NE – As Nebraska state lawmakers debate illegal immigration, a handful of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students are doing what they can to expand the conversation.
Nine UNL students are meeting once a week to investigate the topic of illegal immigration in Nebraska. Their professors said the goal of the class is to take a single topic, dissect it, then present that information to the public. Jerry Renaud is one of the professors.
â€œWe try to pick an area of interest to the state. We think there are lots of unanswered questions,” he said. “Sometimes when it is an emotional issue, the people tend to look at it in one way. Our goal is to try to get them to look at it in a number of ways.â€
One focus of the studentsâ€™ attention is LB48, a bill introduced by State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont. It mirrors a controversial Arizona law requiring police check the immigration status of people they stop if thereâ€™s reasonable suspicion those people are in the country illegally.
Students say religion plays a pivotal role in the discussion. Ellen Hirst is a junior studying journalism and psychology from Elgin, Illinois. She said most clergy in Fremont speak out against LB48.
â€œI talk to some people who say… theyâ€™re afraid to talk to me â€˜cause they donâ€™t want to come across as racist,” she said. “They donâ€™t want people to think something about them that isnâ€™t true.”
“I think thereâ€™s a pressure to agree with religious leaders but when it comes down to it, theyâ€™re behind the curtain, theyâ€™re voting, this bill would pass.â€
While religion is one arm of the immigration issue, another powerful and emotional tentacle is economics. Rachel Albin is a senior news-editorial and Spanish major from Lincoln.
â€œItâ€™s really difficult to predict how much it would even cost to enforce LB48. Thatâ€™s partially because we really donâ€™t have a firm estimate of how many undocumented immigrants are in the state. The Pew Hispanic Center admits thereâ€™s a range between 25,000 and 60,000.â€
As the student journalists burrow deeper, they say two considerations emerge â€“ the ideal and the practical. Put another way: is legislation like LB48 constitutional and is it enforceable? And despite differences of philosophy, there is nearly universal agreement on one point. John Schreier is a senior news-editorial and history major from Papillion.
â€œThere are two different camps here and they agree on one thing: they both agree that the federal immigration system is broken. The question really is what to do about it.â€
About half the states in the country are considering legislation on illegal immigration. The Nebraska proposal is scheduled for a public hearing March 2nd.
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