On Oct. 3, President Obama is set to take the stage with Governor Romney to engage in the first presidential debate. While pundits are busily inflating the debates' importance and predicting which of the candidates will "win," we at The New American Leaders Project are wondering why immigration is not on the agenda, particularly when the debate in held in Colorado, a swing state where Latino voters could well decide the outcome. Like all voters, Asians and Latinos consistently place the economy on top of their list of concerns and the economy is rightfully the focus of the debate. Nevertheless, immigration is a top concern for immigrant communities and is inextricably tied to the economy. In recognition of this, we're proposing five immigration questions that Jim Lehrer, Wednesday's debate moderator, probably won't ask, but should:
1. Our current immigration system is broken. We have record numbers of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows. We have an antiquated visa system that makes it nearly impossible for smart, hard-working immigrants to come to the U.S., and all but sends foreign-born graduates from top American universities home or to a competitor country. Please outline the top three immigration policy changes you believe we need today to ensure a vibrant, competitive future for our economy.
2. President Obama, you have deported more immigrants during your tenure in office than any president before you. Governor Romney, you have advocated attrition through enforcement and "self-deportation" as effective methods of removing undocumented immigrants from this country. Yet both of you elevate the family as a keystone American institution. How can you break apart families by deporting children or parents of mixed-status families? Would you endorse a more humane policy solution that keeps families together?
3. President Obama, your administration has overseen an expansion of secure communities, which has been widely criticized as harming the safety of immigrant communities. Governor Romney, during the primary campaign you came out in support of Arizona's SB1070 and the rights of states to enforce immigration laws and coordinate with federal agencies to deport undocumented immigrants. Do you both believe that local law enforcement should enforce the country's immigration laws despite the fact that the Supreme Court severely curtailed states' rights to establish immigration law in their ruling this year?
4. Studies have shown that negative media and elite frames of immigrants focus overwhelmingly on crime and illegality and drive negative and damaging stereotypes of many immigrant groups in the country. Widely known undocumented journalist Jose Antonio Vargas has begun a campaign to stop major media outlets from using the word 'illegal' to refer to immigrants because it criminalizes people, rather than their actions. What are your thoughts on the use of this word and would you be willing to use the more accurate "unauthorized" or "undocumented" to describe immigrants who are in this country without proper documentation?
5. President Obama, you promised to pass comprehensive immigration reform in your first year in office and you failed on that promise. Governor Romney, you said during your recent Univision interview that you would offer a "permanent solution" to a broken immigration system. Yet after the failure of comprehensive reform in 2006 and 2007, Congress remains a huge obstacle. What can you do to ensure that Congress fixes the current broken immigration system when you're elected to office?
As in past years, the presidential debates on Wednesday are not designed to provide concrete or detailed policy proposals. But, at the least, we want to see more from our two presidential candidates than pandering to voters with baseline moral arguments around fairness and justice. We want leadership on immigration, not simply because it is of concern to immigrant communities but also because it is intertwined with almost every social, economic, and political issue and is key to America's future. Furthermore, a sensible immigration system uplifts a core American value of respect for diversity and holds together families, which both candidates and their parties agree is important. This October, we hope Jim Lehrer, Candy Crowley, or Bob Schieffer will hold firm on an issue that is core to our economic success and our long term viability in an increasingly competitive world.