On Wednesday night, four Binghamton University students debated a controversial topic — whether or not Binghamton should become a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.
The debate took place in Lecture Hall as a part of a student project for RHET 354: Argumentative Theory. It was also sponsored by the Spanish Club.
A sanctuary city, as described by debate moderator Simona Maksimyan, a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience, is a city that limits the amount of information shared between local authorities and federal immigration authorities to protect low-priority undocumented immigrants. The idea of sanctuary cities arose in 1985 when San Francisco declared it would not allow city police to assist federal immigration officers in the capture of refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala.
Now, over 30 years later, dozens of cities have followed suit and the debate has reached Binghamton. Maksimyan, who organized the debate, said she chose this topic as her project because it is a relevant issue for students.
“It’s a current topic especially with the decisions coming out of the White House and President Trump to ban sanctuary cities,” Maksimyan said. “And then here at Binghamton University, where [University President Harvey Stenger] says that this is a safe haven and we are not going to abide by what President Trump is saying.”
Trump issued an executive order several days after his inauguration that would have cut federal funds to places trying to become sanctuary cities. Although Binghamton is not a sanctuary city, several other cities in New York are, including Ithaca, Albany and New York City. On Dec. 2, 2016, Stenger released a statement on the University’s B-Line news alert system affirming the administration’s support for students of all nationalities.
“This administration will do everything in its power to protect our students, faculty and staff, including undocumented immigrants, refugees and international students,” the statement read.
The debate Wednesday night began with representatives from both sides giving an opening statement, followed by cross-questioning and questions from the host and audience.
The group in favor of sanctuary cities pointed out that these places tend to have better economies than nonsanctuary areas. In response, the opposing group said that there was no legitimate relationship between sanctuary cities and the economy.
Hunter Feasel, a senior majoring in biology and an advocate for Binghamton becoming a sanctuary city, wrote that this topic is one that is often difficult to discuss because people’s opinions are polarized.
“Often people don’t want to talk politics because it can become so heated,” Feasel wrote in an email. “But it’s important for us all to talk and listen to each other in attempt to form effective and reasonable policy that we all can get behind.”
Over 120 students, alumni and faculty signed into the event. Joseph Leeson-Schatz, professor of English and director of speech and debate at BU, who teaches the course, said this event was one of the most successful of all of his student projects so far this year. He accredited the students’ success with their ability to choose their own debate topic, which helped appeal to the student body.
One of the attendees, James Baldassano, ‘16, a technician in a neuroscience lab on campus, said he attended to gain a new perspective.
“People generally fall into their own echo chambers,” Baldassano said, “Especially with the prevalence of social media. To hear both sides of the argument in a sophisticated and articulate manner is not commonplace, and being able to hear both sides is extremely important.”