A unique and important education forum is going to be held at Wenatchee Valley College’s campus theater Thursday night at 6:30 focusing on exploring both sides of the immigration reform debate.
What makes this discussion unusual is that the organizers represent a wide spectrum of interests, political parties and professions. There are Republicans, Democrats, members of the faith community, educators, civic activists and other interested members of the community. They call themselves the North Central Washington Immigration Reform Roundtable committee.
They have found two thoughtful and knowledgeable individuals to represent the two sides of the issue. Wenatchee attorney Dale Foreman, the former state representative and gubernatorial candidate who also served as chairman of the state Republican Party, will talk in favor of immigration reform with its pathway to citizenship.
On the other side of the conversation will be Steve Beren of Seattle, a tea party activist who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Jim McDermott. He’s in favor of stronger border controls and opposes a pathway to citizenship and has written a white paper on the subject. Steve Lachowicz, who was an editor here at The World and went on to run communications at Chelan County Public Utility District, will be the moderator.
I met with two members of the roundtable committee this past week to learn more about this effort. Jon Wyss, president of the Farm Bureau in Okanogan County, said the idea came out of a discussion recently about how to have a meaningful conversation about this complex and emotionally charged subject.
The group concluded that they needed to present both sides and that the focus needed to be on a civil discussion that included questions from a moderator as well as questions from the community. From that discussion, the roundtable idea quickly developed and the pieces began to fall into place.
Immigration reform efforts have been stalled in Washington, D.C., recently, although some progress was made late in the week, Wyss said. He said that helping educate people about the issues and implications may help in moving the debate forward.
Jorge Chacon, who with his wife Alma runs the Community for the Advancement of Family and Education in Wenatchee, said the group wants to create a safe environment for people to listen to each other’s opinions. This won’t be about yelling and screaming, he told me.
What I appreciate about this effort is the intent to sit down and discuss, in a civil fashion, a very difficult topic. These kinds of discussions aren’t being held in Washington, D.C., these days.
This kind of dialogue is just the beginning. The committee wants to take this model of civic engagement and have regular dialogue about important issues that affect North Central Washington.
I find this inspiring. If the polarization in this country is going to get fixed, it’s going to happen because people in small communities start working to find common ground and turn away from the hateful yelling and screaming that too often passes for political discussion.
Great communities find a way to have these challenging discussions where people learn to respect the opinions of those with whom they vehemently disagree.