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Stu­dents locked them­selves in the Dow Lead­ership Center for seven hours on Sat­urday to free their minds for a open-forum dis­cussion about U.S. immi­gration policy.

Assistant Pro­fessor of Eco­nomics Christopher Martin, who worked at the Institute for Humane Studies for 10 years before coming to Hillsdale, helped recruit stu­dents for the IHS con­ference. Martin said he reached out to a range of majors and opinions to enhance the con­ver­sation.

IHS picked Christopher Freiman, asso­ciate pro­fessor of phi­losophy at the College of William and Mary, to lead the con­ference. This was the first IHS con­ference at Hillsdale, but Martin said he hopes to have more in the future.

Martin branded the immi­gration dis­cussion as a “Liberty Fund-style con­ference.” Liberty Fund con­fer­ences take an inter­dis­ci­plinary approach — exam­ining eco­nomics, pol­itics, phi­losophy, and religion — to ques­tions con­cerning human nature and liberty.  

“The purpose of the con­ference is not to push any con­clusion,” Martin said. “It’s not a tele­o­logical con­ver­sation. The goal is free and open con­ver­sation.”

Stu­dents said the dis­cussion focused on the cul­tural and eco­nomic aspects of immi­gration policy.

As a double major in eco­nomics and pol­itics, senior Adrienne Carrier said she is torn between the “social con­tract” and “net eco­nomic benefit” views of immi­gration. The first view says gov­ern­ments have a broad duty to protect cit­izens, whereas the second view says gov­ern­ments should adopt whatever policies create the greatest overall wealth.

“Only certain people benefit from increased immi­gration, and there are poorer demo­graphics harmed by it, and we need to con­sider that when looking at eco­nomics,” she said. “Net eco­nomic benefit doesn’t mean that people won’t get seri­ously hurt.”

Stu­dents read an anthology titled “The Eco­nomics of Immi­gration,” which Carrier said ana­lyzes immi­gration from a “lib­er­tarian per­spective.” It included articles from Bryan Caplan, pro­fessor of eco­nomics at George Mason Uni­versity and a voice for open borders.

Senior Duncan Voyles said he sup­ports free immi­gration but has reser­va­tions.

“There are sit­u­a­tions where some people lose,” he said. “I don’t think it’s good that they lose. It might be just, but it isn’t good. When those people lose, there should be insti­tu­tions and people that step in and help them.”

Voyles said people who support free immi­gration should not turn away from the real problems it causes.

“I’m torn. Does the gov­ernment step in to help people? Do private insti­tu­tions step in to help people?” Voyles asked. “The gov­ernment doesn’t do a very good job taking care of losers, but per­sonally I believe the Church should step in and do it — in very real, tan­gible, con­crete ways.”

He sug­gested mon­etary assis­tance as well as pro­viding edu­cation and job training as a way to assist in the tran­sition for those who lose their jobs.

Carrier and Voyles said many stu­dents worried about pre­serving American culture, even though no one could define it.

“Most American cit­izens can’t even pass a cit­i­zenship test,” Voyles said. “If we don’t have a clear con­ception of what immi­grants should assim­ilate to, then we can’t ask them to assim­ilate.”

Stu­dents read “We Wanted Workers” by George Borjas, pro­fessor of eco­nomics and social policy at Harvard Uni­versity. Carrier described him as “a leading aca­demic who is critical of immi­gration.”

Carrier said “We Wanted Workers” shows that immi­grants are more complex than their eco­nomic value.

“They’re not automatons,” she said. “They impact their neigh­bor­hoods and people around them.”

Voyles said America has sus­tained cul­tural diversity so far, although he doesn’t know if it will hold up to the country’s increasing plu­ralism.

“One of the defining fea­tures of the United States is that there is indi­vidual liberty to pursue your notion of what’s right and to create a com­munity around that notion,” he said. “Part of what makes the United States so attractive for immi­grants is that they get to bring their culture with them, pro­vided that they abide by certain general guide­lines, like the rule of law.”

Martin said IHS con­fer­ences provide a model for political dis­cussion.

“You don’t want to push an agenda because, first of all, it wouldn’t work. Sec­ondly, it isn’t right. You want free people to come to beliefs because of reason and dis­cussion.”