Arguing Alaska debate investigates proposed immigration reforms

On Nov. 13, the next installment of the “Arguing Alaska” Debate Series will be hosted by the Seawolf Debate program and Alaska Dispatch News.

In the Arguing Alaska Debate Series, UAA’s Debate Team presents arguments on topical subjects at Bear Tooth Theatrepub. Photo credit: Steve Johnson

According to Steve Johnson, associate professor of communications at UAA and leader of the Seawolf Debate program, immigration is the topic currently dominating political debates, sparking the topic: Who should be allowed to become an American?

The recently introduced Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE Act, takes a new approach on this question. It was proposed by Republican senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue with the goal of reforming the criteria for immigration and reducing the number of newly issued green cards by 50 percent.

“At present, our immigration policy prioritizes family reunification as a criteria for awarding green cards. The RAISE act would, among other things, introduce a points-based system that prioritizes things like age, English language proficiency, education and available investment capital,” Johnson said. “It is this facet of the proposed immigration reform that we wanted to investigate in our debate.”

Members of UAA’s award-winning debate team will take part in the discussion; Anchorage’s First Lady Mara Kimmel and Margaret Stock will function as guest judges.

“We’re pleased to announce two extraordinarily qualified individuals as guest judges for this debate,” Johnson said.

Kimmel has a long career in Alaskan public policy with particular emphasis on legal issues, and is on faculty of both UAA and Alaska Pacific University.

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Kimmel has practiced law in Alaska since 1996 and recently completed her Ph.D. where her research focused on local governance and community well-being. She is a co-founder of the Alaska Institute for Justice, Alaska’s only non-profit agency providing low cost immigration legal services, and language access services.

Stock is a former U.S. Senate candidate and attorney specialized on immigration and citizenship law. She is a nationally-recognized expert on immigration and national security laws and has testified regularly before Congressional committees on these matters.

Stock has also worked as a professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point and worked as an adjunct instructor at UAA.

The series seeks to bring together members of the community such as policymakers, academics and specialists to explore the issue. Johnson is convinced that the Arguing Alaska Series, with its qualified guests, is important as a forum for public discussion.

“It’s increasingly important to remind people that differences of opinion are not toxic and evidence of some greater problem and, more importantly, that those with whom we differ are not bad people,” Johnson said. “Given what sometimes passes for political discourse — from both our citizens and leaders — we feel a responsibility to provide examples of informed, reasoned argument.”

Between 300 and 400 people are expected to attend the debate.

Morgan Hartley, a political science junior at UAA, is looking forward to attending the event.

“Ideally, it will be a well prepared debate on the subject of immigration. That’s what our debate team is known for around the world and hopefully, that’s what they will produce for us on Monday. I look forward to hearing both sides, Hartley said.

Travis Neff is attending the debate series for the first time.

“I’m interested in immigration, but more important is the concept of the debate. I think, as a society, we have lost track of the importance of debate and public forums. It is critical to the well-being of democracy to have our beliefs tested, defended, and debunked,” Neff said.

To him, the issue on the agenda for the debate is highly relevant in our society.

“Immigration is always going to be a campaign issue, but lives hang in the balance of policy decision,” Neff said. “We need to be clear with ourselves on what the issue means and I hope the debate participants brush up on their homework.”

Tickets are $15 and can be bought online on or at the Bear Tooth box office. All proceeds from the tickets go to support the Seawolf Debate Program.