Immigration Policy Dialogue - Friday, September 29, 2006

Immigration policy dialogueOne of the most unique aspects of the Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy (TJPPP) is its informal access to the policymakers, lawmakers, and analysts in Washington, D.C. On Friday, September 29, students from the TJPPP recently experienced such access on a recent trip to the Program’s Washington office to participate in a day of immigration policy discussions. Three speakers addressed the students, each speaker discussing a different aspect of immigration policy that they take part in. Speakers presented topics to the students, shared their expertise in immigration policy, and then fielded questions from students.

TJPPP students arrived in Washington, D.C. in mid-morning, and the policy discussion began shortly thereafter. Marshall Fitz, from the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Law Foundation, shared some of his experiences as an immigrant advocate lawyer responsible for educating legislators about immigration issues and lobbying Congress and governmental agencies for more comprehensive policies towards illegal immigrants already living in the United States. Mr. Fitz spoke of recent controversial immigration issues facing Congress, such as amnesty for current illegal immigrants, immigrants being perceived as terrorists, and the proposed wall being built along the Mexican-American border.

Julie Furuta-Toy, Head of the Public and Diplomatic Liaison Visa Services at the U.S. Department of State, was second to speak at the event. Ms. Furuta-Toy explained some of the changes that have taken place in the State Department as a result of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks. She focused on technical and logistical aspects of immigration, such as visa support services, immigrant quotas, and Department of State support networks. Ms. Furuta-Toy discussed some legislation and initiatives that are creating tensions in the immigration policy area, such as the USA Patriot Act, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, and the reorganization of several departments into the Department of Homeland Security.

Marsha Allgeier, Deputy County Manager of Arlington County, was the third and final speaker of the immigration policy event. Ms. Allgeier offered a local government perspective to the immigration talks. As Deputy County Manager, Ms. Allgeier regularly handles cases of recent immigrants, documented and undocumented, seeking healthcare, housing, and education, and is responsible for coordinating legal and cost-effective methods of supporting local Arlington immigrants. Students listened as Ms. Allgeier explained local pressures caused by immigration, including strained local budgets, population changes, and language barriers at local health clinics.

The goal of the Friday Policy Dialogues is to engage students in a topic to which they may or may not have some prior exposure, and through direct discussions with policymakers and policy practitioners, to provide the opportunity for them to develop an informed perspective.  The informal Policy Dialogue contacts with practitioners made by students as part of the process are an important part of the Friday routine.