A trio of speakers with contrasting views on American immigration policy spoke Friday afternoon in a forum organized by Concordia University's Center for Public Policy.
Teresa Hernandez of the Lincoln Club of Orange County, Tim Celek of the Crossing Church in Costa Mesa and Ruben Navarrette Jr., a nationally syndicated columnist and CNN contributor, talked to a capacity room in the Irvine university's Grimm Hall.
Hernandez, whose advocacy organization favors limited government and securing civil liberties, presented a three-pronged approach to immigration policy reform: implementing border security; creating a guest-worker program that leads to legal residency, not citizenship; and then instituting enforcement and support.
"We should find ways that are fair, humane, economically sound, meet the needs of the free market, do not take advantage of loopholes, and will grow the economy and not be a drain," she said, adding that the Republican Party should lead the issue.
She referenced the Bracero Program, which began in 1942 and ended in 1964, as an example that counters any assertion that guest-worker programs do not or never can work.
She said before that program, there was an estimated 1 million illegal crossings into the country every year. Once the program started, that number dropped to 45,000 a year.
"Whatever you feel about the Bracero Program, which definitely had its flaws and issues, it did work," Hernandez said.
Celek stressed the humanistic side of the immigration debate, that letting people somehow stay in the country is a biblical "no-brainer."
"As a Christian, I think we ought to be more concerned about the dignity of human beings than we are about our economy," he said.
"This isn't primarily a political or an economic issue," he added. "This is a biblical one, friends, and at the core, it's about the dignity of each person made in God's image. It's about the unity of families.
"I want to make sure any guest-worker program — which, again, isn't a bad idea, depending on how it's executed — truly protects the rights of workers, not just the rights of employers."
He expressed unease about any path to legal status that can never lead to citizenship.
"I'm very concerned, and so should you be, about establishing a whole class of people who won't ever be allowed to be U.S. citizens," Celek said. "In other words, an entire class of human beings that'll never be allowed to participate in our democracy."
He also expanded on the New Testament idea of hospitality toward strangers.
"According to the Billy Graham Center, less than one in 10 immigrants will ever be welcomed in the home of an American," Celek said. "[To] many of you here who have incredibly harsh, and I think sometimes uncaring, feelings: Have you ever had somebody in your home, other than to clean it or to mow it, but to break bread with?"
He called the federal government's immigration stance "absurd."
"We put both a stop sign at the border and a help wanted sign at the border," he said, later adding that the country should provide a clear pathway by having illegal immigrants pay a fine and ultimately move toward achieving citizenship.
Navarrette said both political parties are to blame in an immigration debate that is full of outright lies and dishonesty.
Republicans pander to nativists, he said, who "freak out" when they see the country and state becoming more Hispanic.
Democrats, on the other hand, pander to unionists and organized labor, such as the AFL-CIO, that may inherently fear competition, he added.
"I am being asked to believe that somewhere in Michigan or Ohio or Illinois, there is an overweight Teamster collecting two pensions who has been dying to pick avocados," Navarrette said.
He called the immigration issue one of the most divisive since slavery.
He called America's real national motto, "There goes the neighborhood," with one of the first American bigots being Benjamin Franklin, who disliked Germans coming into America. It has been the same prejudiced story with the immigrant Chinese, Irish, Jews and others, he said.
"We've never encountered an immigrant group where we said, 'Wow, they're pretty cool. They've got a lot on the ball. In fact, they're superior to us,'" Navarrette said.
In his closing statements, Newport Beach Councilman Keith Curry, the center's director, said that "if you didn't hear something that made you a little bit uncomfortable, you just weren't listening today."