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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.”