Are we a nation of immigrants? When Peter Laufer grabbed a bite to eat at Duke's McDonald's Tuesday, the woman who took his order in Spanish answered the question for him.
"The sweet woman behind the counter didn't bat an eye," said Laufer, an author whose belief that the United States should open the border to immigration placed him at one end of a debate sponsored by the Duke Conservative Union Tuesday evening. "The pat, easy answer, of course, is 'Yeah.'"
But both Laufer-who wrote "Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border"-and immigration restrictionist Peter Brimelow, who countered Laufer in the debate, said the issue was too complex to be answered easily.
"There is perhaps no more difficult question," said DCU member Richard Spencer, moderator for the debate and a graduate student in history. He added that DCU hosted the event because the issue has not been adequately discussed in the country.
Laufer and Brimelow debated everything from solutions for immigration from Mexico-which both said they believe is a problem-to the economic consequences of legally barring or opening the borders.
Laufer said he thought the only solution to immigration is "regularizing movement" between the United States and Mexico. He discussed the idea that if immigration is banned, money currently generated by the immigrant workers could pose a serious problem.
"What does it do to our country in terms of our pocketbooks?" he asked. "We don't know, [but] we know the truth of the film 'A Day Without a Mexican.'"
Laufer said opening the Mexican-American border would act as a pressure release-because immigrants would be able to move freely between the two countries, conditions for immigrant workers in the United States would improve.
"One of the fascinating things of immigration is it gets us to reflect on [our society's problems]," he added.
Brimelow-author of "Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster"-said he believed net immigration into the United States should be banned, however, because immigrants exacerbate already-existing American healthcare and education problems.
In some cases, legalizing the border could detract from the growth of the economy, he said.
"There is no significant benefit," said Brimelow, a former editor of the Financial Post. "This is my conclusion."
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The two also discussed the issue of an increasing number of Spanish-only speaking immigrants in the United States and the history of immigration in America.
Attendees had mixed reactions to the event and to statements made by Laufer and Brimelow about the effect of immigrants on American history.
"I like the fact that they brought up some numbers," said Duke employee Chris Taylor. "[But] I'm still not sure where I stand on the issue."
Tamara Extian-Babiuk, a graduate student in history, said she thought Laufer and Brimelow did not adequately represent the political spectrum.
"I would've like to see a stronger leftist position," she said.