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August 30 2019

Immigration: What's going on?

by Beverly Hallberg and Patrice Onwuka

Patrice Onwuka joins the podcast this week to help us clarify a thorny and emotional issue — immigration. Everyone from celebrities to pundits have given (and continue to give) their opinions, but we face unique challenges in America and the facts matter. Patrice shares her immigration story, explains President Trump’s efforts at the border, and outlines what policy reforms we should be pushing.

Patrice Onwuka is a senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum and has worked in the advocacy and communications fields for more than a decade. Prior to joining IWF, Patrice served as national spokeswoman and communications director at Generation Opportunity. She also held consulting roles as a speech writer for a United Nations spokesman and managing a student travel program to South Africa.

Beverly H.:
Welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you're allowed to think for yourself. I'm your host, Beverly Hallberg. On today's episode we're going to try cut through the media clutter of a thorny and emotional issue, the issue of immigration and the unique challenges we face here in America with everyone from celebrities to pundits giving their two cents on the issue the facts do matter. Today Patrice Onwuka is here to break it down, everything from her own immigration story to the president's efforts at the border to what policy reforms we should be looking at. Before we bring her on, a little bit about Patrice, Patrice Onwuka is a senior policy analyst at Independent Women's Forum and has worked in the advocacy and communications fields for more than a decade. Prior to joining IWF, Patrice served as national spokeswoman and communications director at Generation Opportunity. She's held consulting roles as a speech writer for the United Nation's spokesman and a managing a student travel program to South Africa. Patrice, always great to have you on, thanks for joining us.

Patrice Onwuka:
Thank you, Beverly, it's great to be on.

Beverly H.:
Before we get into where we are as a country and the different policy issues, as I just mentioned I would love for you to share your own immigration story. When did you come to the states and any background information you can give on why you decided to come here.

Patrice Onwuka:
Sure, my family and I moved from the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat. It's a British colony, it's in the Caribbean. We left when I was just three years old. It was quite shocking I think moving from an island paradise where my family had a really upper middle class lifestyle, a very nice home and multiple cars and we literally moved to the inner city of Boston where my school had drug needles in the back, in the school yard. I stayed after school with someone who had gangs right outside of her apartment door. It was at the height of the crack epidemic, drug violence, gang violence in my neighborhood. Talk about going from paradise to the opposite of paradise but to this day my family still holds and I wholeheartedly agree, that the sacrifice was worth it, leaving behind all of our family, friends, everything we knew to start over in a totally different climate, totally different place was worth it because of the opportunity and the freedom in this country. We are proud US citizens today. I certainly have a unique perspective of understanding why immigration is important, why it's great for our country but also why we have to have laws that are abided by.

Beverly H.:
Out of curiosity, when did you become a citizen? You mentioned all the things that you faced when you first came here and some of the struggles that you faced, why would you say at the end of the day it was still worth it when some would say what you're doing is leaving paradise?

Patrice Onwuka:
Sure, the second question first because I couldn't be here talking to you Beverly, as a policy analyst, as someone who regularly, does the television news cable television circuit talking about policy and economics, talking about why greater freedom, why individuals pursuing their passions in the marketplace is the best tool for empowerment and poverty alleviation. I wouldn't be talking about any of this. I wouldn't have gone to the colleges I went to. My brothers would not have done the same and had the same opportunities. While the island was a paradise, the government owned half of the economy there. The entrepreneurial spirit just doesn't exist. If you're not connected, if you don't have money your kids really are not going to get to go to college. My parents made a gamble, looking 20, 30 years down the line that our lives would be so much better if they uprooted us and moved us to the United States than if we stayed back in the Caribbean. I'm thankful that they made that sacrifice because it really was leaving so much behind but we gained so much more as a result.

Beverly H.:
Plenty of people in our country have opinions on immigration, obviously they have every right to. I think the more educated people are, the better off that they are. I want to let our listeners know that you have a wonderful policy focused piece on IWF's website, IWF.org which details just [inaudible 00:04:48] issues that we can look at. I find it interesting how so many people including celebrities have an opinion on immigration. Just this past Monday night, MTV had their annual Video Music Awards, also known as the VMA's, by the way it was an all times rating low each of the past three years. It's struggling to get headlines so maybe this is what was going on. You just did a piece on this, an article on this talking about the immigration comments by two individuals that were presenting the best Latin video award. You had Moroccan born rapper, French Montana and actress Alison Brie. Let's go to the clip and then I want to get your comments on it.

French Montana:
I'm so proud to pronounce this award because as an immigrant, I feel like we are the people that make this country. I feel like I want to be the voice.

Alison Brie:
What's happening to immigrants in this country is unconstitutional, frankly disgusting.

Beverly H.:
Patrice is somebody who immigrated to this country, a legal immigrant here what do you make of these types of comments? They seem very flippant statements about immigration not understanding the full picture. What do you say in response to these types of comments?

Patrice Onwuka:
Yeah, I think they're unfortunate, Beverly. I think they're coming from a place of believing that all immigrants think the same and speak with the same voice and have the same perspective about immigration policy. Then number two, I think they're uneducated. You have number one, you've got French Montana who is an immigrant himself and experiencing the blessings of being in this country, he's trying to straddle the line in a big way you know talk about being proud to be an immigrant, I agree with him there. I think what crossed the line really is Alison Brie's comment about what's happening to immigrants being disgusting.

Patrice Onwuka:
The question I pose is what does she mean is happening and what does she mean is disgusting? Is enforcing our immigration laws disgusting, no. Is locking up and deporting people who are committing serious crimes, aside from the crime of being here illegally, committing serious crimes disgusting, I would think it's not as disgusting to lock those criminals up. I'll give you an even closer example in Montgomery county, just one county away from where I live in Maryland, for the second time this month you have an illegal immigrant who was arrested for raping an 11 year old girl. This is in Montgomery county unfortunately this is not an uncommon thing. It's because there are people who lump all immigrants together. There are those of us who the majority are here legally whether it's permanent residents or citizens or who are on visas and then lumping us together with those who are here illegally who have broken the law to come to this country.

Patrice Onwuka:
Hey, my heart goes out to those who want better opportunity and more freedom, et cetera, et cetera but there is a process for you to be able to achieve that. Jumping the line because you think you can is not fair to those who are waiting. I have family members who have applied to come to this country and are going to be on the list for another decade. That's not fair. We all don't think the same and we all don't believe the same about immigration policy. We all do support having a strong border enforcement, having immigration policies and reforming our immigration laws to be able to make the system more clear, understandable in the process of how to become a citizen or how to come here more understandable.

Beverly H.:
Well let's play a little game and because we think people need to be more educated about this issue and by the way, it's hard to keep track of everything. We hear so much in the news, some of it's true, some of it's not true so this isn't a knock on the fact that we sometimes don't know what's going on, it's just it's hard to get the straight facts. We're going to play a little game. You're going to help us out, Patrice. It's called two truths and a lie. I'm going to read three statements and you tell me which one is the lie. A, number one, most immigrants in the US are here illegally. Two, congress has failed over 20 times to address the situation with Dreamers or number three, a majority of Americans want the US to increase immigrations levels or keep them the same. Which one is the lie?

Patrice Onwuka:
You know I'm going to go with A, most immigrants are here illegally. That's a lie.

Beverly H.:
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding good job, correct.

Patrice Onwuka:
I know this because I've done some research and I've looked at the number of immigrants and then the numbers who are here illegally. You've got 47 million people who are not born in this country, me being one of them. Of that, over barely half of us are naturalized citizens. Another quarter are legal non citizens, so people who are here legally but just are not citizens, maybe they're permanent residents. We still have another maybe 1.7 million who have, are on temporary visas. Then you've got about 11 million, or maybe a quarter who are here illegally. There maybe a perception that all immigrants are here illegally or most immigrants are here illegally. That is so far from the truth. Most immigrants who are here, are here legally.

Beverly H.:
I have to be honest about something. I did get the two truths and a lie from a blog post that you did have on IWF.org. People can go there to read more about it. I think this also leads into a really important topic that we heard democrats and republicans talking about quite a bit and that is what to do with Dreamers. What about the children who were born here even though their parents were illegal, what do we do about that situation? What is your perspective on the Dreamers and do you think that republicans and democrats can ever come to a truce or come to some type of agreement on that?

Patrice Onwuka:
Yeah, so the Dreamers are an interesting case because these are children, today they're young adults but they were brought here illegally as children. What do you do? They themselves didn't make the decision to come here and to break the law. Someone else made that decision for them and now you're talking about an estimated 2.3 million young people who fall into that Dreamer category. President Obama tried to do something about that which was using executive action to create kind of a special kind of grace or kind of allowing them to get work authorization and allow their removal from the United States to be deferred every two years once they apply and prove that they're on the up and up, they're being productive citizens, they're going to school or maybe they're in the military and they're not getting into trouble with the law. That's what you call the DACA program or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Now there's been, the Trump administration has said hey, wait a minute that is a temporary solution to this longer term problem of what do you do with these 2.3 million people.

Patrice Onwuka:
The Trump administration ended the DACA program. There's been some back and forth in the legal courts about what can be done. DACA is still in play where some people who would fall under that category can apply for to stay in this country. There's a longer term question of what do you do. I think it's fair to say okay, we've got these young people let's see if we can at least give them some sort of stay here, provided that they meet certain requirements. Again, I think the requirements should be around employment, around education, around criminal behavior, making sure they don't have some. With Dreamers, we just have to be careful that if we grant a blanket amnesty that in the future it won't create an incentive to again bring children here to the country illegally knowing that one administration in the future will also give them amnesty. That just encourages more illegal immigration.

Beverly H.:
I want to wrap up our conversation today on a recent action on the border and that was in reference to the Flores Act. The president has made a decision to say that children can be held longer with their parents, longer than 20 days in order for their claims to be processed. This got a lot of pushback, saying that this was inhumane, that children could be held indefinitely. What is your perspective on making this change to the Flores Act and do you think that this is a good thing because it allows them, the right people to go through the policy claim process?

Patrice Onwuka:
With the Flores Settlement I'm glad the administration is finding a way to tackle this issue. What may have been well intended has led to some unintended consequences mainly that you have human traffickers and smugglers exploiting this loophole to bring children to our borders illegally and use them as a tool to get other people here illegally. What you unfortunately also have seen is now you have the renting and I said that right, renting children where the same children, child will be brought with groups of adults to the border claiming that they're related as family members and because of Flores you couldn't keep that child and those adults indefinitely. You'd have to release them and hope that they would come back for the adjudication of their cases in the future. Then that child goes right back to the same sending country and comes back again with another group of migrants. I think what you're trying to see now is the administration saying, okay we care about children enough to ensure that they're not going to be rented by human smugglers and coyotes.

Patrice Onwuka:
This will allow us to keep them for a longer period of time, not forever, but for a longer period of time to adjudicate their cases. I think the administration is looking at probably up to 60 days or a couple of months, which hopefully will be enough time to deal with those cases, determine if there really is an asylum claim or determine if there's a legitimate claim for immediate entry or whether they just need to be returned to their sending country. Part of the challenge with these immigration problems, Beverly is that some of the solutions have been treating the symptoms. We actually need to treat the reason why someone is coming. If they're coming or using loopholes in the law to flood our borders with people illegally than how do you close that loophole? That's what this measure is meant to accomplish.

Beverly H.:
Let's talk a little bit and wrap up with just public perception, I think it's changed dramatically on how people view what's going on on the border. President Trump did push hard in the past year and a half to two years saying it was a crisis. You had other politicians saying it wasn't. Now they've said it is a crisis. Now it's how do we deal with it. The narratives are drastically different out there. They vary so much. Where is the public falling on the issue of immigration? What is it that you're seeing and what do you at IWF, what do you hear people asking for when it comes to policies?

Patrice Onwuka:
Sure, generally Americans embrace immigration, legal immigration. You've got large majorities, over 70% of Americans do support immigration. Some wanted to either increase or keep it the same and that's fine. I think people are concerned about what happens when you have illegal immigration and not surprisingly the impact on both use of public resources, costs in terms of crimes as well as the impact on the labor market. People are looking for a longer term solution that's actually going to address both the levels of legal immigration we have, the process of achieving it and then dealing with asylum claims.

Patrice Onwuka:
There are a lot of people who think that we are not dealing effectively with people who claim asylum. Unfortunately because of the southern border and false claims of asylum, you have a system that's been exploited. I think the public sentiment is behind getting something accomplished and getting something done. I think that we're going to hopefully see that, there are a lot of people who didn't believe there was a problem at the southern border and that it was a quote manufactured crisis. Now they understand that that's no longer the case. I think there's now momentum to be able to address immigration from a broader standpoint. Whether congress will do that is another question.

Beverly H.:
We'll have to save that for another podcast. For now, Patrice, thank you so much for delving into some of these issues and also sharing your own personal story. It's always a pleasure having you on.

Patrice Onwuka:
Thank you so much, Beverly. It's always great to be on with you.

Beverly H.:
Thank you all for joining us. If you have more interest in this topic you can of course find Patrice's policy work at IWF.org and you can follow her on Twitter, her handle is at Patrice Pink File. I also wanted to let you know of a great podcast you should subscribe to called Problematic Women, it's hosted by Kelsey Bolar and Lauren Evans. They sort through the news to bring stories and interviews that are of particular interest to conservative leaning or problematic women, that is women whose views and opinions are often excluded or mocked by those on the so called feminist left. Every Thursday hear them talk about everything from pop culture to policy and politics by searching for Problematic Women wherever you get your podcasts. Last if you enjoy this episode of She Thinks, do leave us a rating or review, it does help. Also, we'd love it if you shared this episode so your friends know where they can find more She Thinks episodes. From all of us here at Independent Women's Forum, thanks for listening.





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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