COLUMBIA — Yana Lubahn had just checked out her books at Columbia Regional Library on Tuesday evening and was preparing to leave when she overheard people talking about an immigraton forum being held there that night. An immigrant herself, Lubahn came from Russia nine years ago and has friends and family currently going through the immigration process. She decided to stay.
“It wasn’t hard for me, but it’s been hard for other people, and I care about them,” she said. “America is a land of immigrants. Now there’s a huge bias against other immigrants.”
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the forum held in the Friends Room at the library Tuesday evening featured discussion on the often contentious issues of immigration assimiliation, health care, guest-worker programs and education. The forum was intended as a way to get feedback on those topics for the organization to compile and present at the national level. League of Women Voters member Linda Frazier said the group hopes to use the forums to create a policy they can take forward to Congress.
The forum featured guest speaker Joan Kilpatrick, chair of the newly-formed Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, and four panelists: John Coffman, attorney and ACLU lobbyist; Katy Disinger, of Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office; Senad Music, coordinator of Immigration and Refugee Services in Columbia; and League member Eleanore Wickersham. Each had 15 minutes to speak, with a question and answer session following.
One issue addressed was the effect on jobs in America.
Wickersham said she felt the influx of illegal immigrants has caused wages to decrease in certain sectors of the economy because those people are more willing to take any job.
“Have you heard that the price of roofing has gone down? I don’t think so,” she said. “Having low-skilled workers only benefits them and the employers who bring them here.”
As a refugee, Music said he felt the time immigrants contribute to their community should count for something.
“We are all immigrants,” Music said about the refugees he works with. “None of us are homeless. They work two to three jobs if they have to. I think we contribute more than enough.”
While there were varying opinions on the issues, people seemed to agree that flaws exist in the way immigration is handled.
“If we’re looking for a consensus, the federal system’s a mess,” Coffman said.
Lubahn said she agreed that immigration laws change so much that it’s hard to tell if they’ll be altered for the better.
“I believe nothing will change,” Lubahn said. “It’s hopeless.”
As a farmer, Norman Lenhardt of Columbia said he attended the forum because he’s concerned about how immigration will affect agriculture in America.
“It’s a simple matter of resources and population,” he said. “Just because they’re nice people don’t mean they’re not going to ruin us.”
Dan Murphy of Columbia, said he thinks the forum was important because he believes immigration is an issue people want to discuss with one another.
“This is what we have a lacking of right now,” Murphy said.