SAN YSIDRO— North America’s best debate yet on the volatile issue of immigration reform was not in the Senate, House or C-SPAN, but at San Ysidro Middle School.
“Debate on the Border” was the first series of public debates organized by the International Debate Education Association (IDEA).
Southwestern College students and students from Universidad La Salle Noroeste in Sorona, Mexico debated SB 744, which focuses on border and immigration issues.
Irena Kotikova, IDEA U.S. executive director, said members of her organization work to promote teaching and learning.
“We’ve been doing debate workshops in schools and community organizations,” she said. “I was surprised by how important this issue is to everyone who lives in this area. We knew that coming in, but actually being here and interacting with everyone and hearing the stories of how this issue personally impacts everyone, that was very powerful.”
Kotikova said IDEA has allowed her to follow her passions.
“Debate is something that is very close to me personally, it has really influenced my life in my home country (The Czech Republic),” she said. “Often people feel like they have one particular opinion, so this is also a way to help people understand that there are two sides to each issue.”
IDEA reached out to SWC because of its proximity to the border and the direct impact immigration has on its community.
Professor of Speech Jordan Mills, advisor for the SWC Debate Club, said it was a unique opportunity for his students.
“I liked how it was a bilingual debate, we’ve never done that before,” he said. “I think we are the only college that could have pulled that off without a hitch. I was really impressed.”
Mills said the topic is less important than the activity.
“It’s not as much about the content of the debate as it is about forming coalitions between the students,” he said. “No matter which side of the debate you’re on, it really doesn’t matter as long as we have this productive conversation on both sides of the border.”
Both teams were randomly assigned a position to defend. Team U.S.A. argued in favor of the bill.
Team U.S.A. was made up of 3 of Mills’ students, Lance Guimont, Christina Batiz and Arlo Elizarraraz. Debaters defended their team position, followed by a cross-examination.
Elizarraraz said his experience gave him a new perspective on the issue of immigration.
“I have family both in Mexico and the U.S.,” he said. “Surprisingly, I’ve been changing my view on this topic lately and I believe I’m getting close to understanding it better.”
Debate opens up the mind of the debater and the public, Elizarraraz said, challenging commonly held assumptions.
“We have to educate the people,” he said. “There are a lot of misconceptions about undocumented workers that are simply not true.”
Nallely Valde, a student from Universidad La Salle Noroeste, gave an impassioned final speech for Team Mexico to sway the judges and crowd alike.
“A fence is not going to fix immigration,” she said. “We have to accept that.”
Although her arguments during the debate did not directly represent her opinion, Valde said the topic hit home.
“For me, being a person who lives by the border, it’s important,” she said. “We need to make real solutions for the people living in the U.S. that do not have a way to get a better life.”
Debates provide a voice for people, Valde said.
“The debate gives a chance to all of us who want to say something but don’t know the way,” she said. “Debate empowers the young, their dreams and their concerns.”
Enrique Morones, executive director of Border Angels and a national immigration reform activist, gave out the results and closing remarks.
Morones commended both teams for an excellent debate, declared Team Mexico as the winner and shared his own experience with SB 744, having just visited the graves at Holtville Cemetery, where more than 600 unidentified migrants are buried.
Morones said he received a personal call from President Obama regarding SB 744. Obama told Morones he wanted to get this bill passed with two amendments, double the size of the wall around the border and double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol. Morones told the President he did not support either amendment.
“This is not an immigration bill, this is a security bill,” Morones said to the audience.
Morones said the debate students are on the right track.
“I think it’s important that the young people get involved early on these types of issues,” he said. “So what will happen with this group here is, maybe a couple of them will really get involved in this issue, you never know. You see the difference in the passion of these people. I think they all did a nice job.”
It was a positive and enlightening experience for all those who attended, but at the end of the day the issue of immigration remains a major national controversy.
“Everyone in the country agrees that it’s broken, we need to fix it,” Morones said. “Every day we don’t have humane immigration reform, two people die and that’s not what America’s all about.”