Darien Kim / Sun Staff Photographer

Members of the Cornell Republicans discuss U.S. encryption, immigration and policies in the Middle East in a debate Thursday.

April 24, 2016

Cornell Democrats, Republicans Battle Over Foreign Policy

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Students from Cornell Democrats and the Cornell Republicans discussed encryption, immigration control and broader Middle East strategy at a debate on national security hosted by the Cornell Speech and Debate Society Thursday.

Debaters first discussed smartphone encryption and its ‘back door’ — a policy which would allow law enforcement authorities to access the phone’s data and messages. William Bristow ’16, president of Cornell Democrats, argued that this kind of encryption is a dangerous practice.

“The back door will allow the government to easily search the mobile devices of suspected criminals, but also make it easier for tech-savvy terrorists to spy on and steal information from American citizens,” Bristow said.

Irvin McCullough ’18, a member of the Cornell Republicans, argued that hiring third-party companies to hack into systems in the name of national security sets a precedent that should be avoided.

Nate Jara ’16, vice president of Cornell Democrats, disagreed with McCullough, insisting that the back door could potentially be abused.

“It sets a dangerous precedent by which foreign governments and terrorist organizations can take advantage of this back door,” Jara said.

Parties also discussed policies for handling the Syrian refugee crisis and border security between the U.S. and Mexico.

McCullough said he supported a bipartisan bill reforming the Syrian refugee processing system, but believes it is necessary to halt refugee inflow for six months in order to attain more thorough information.

“What we need to do is have our intelligence assets to ensure that every single Syrian refugee who’s interviewed can be matched up with some type of background,” he said.

Discussing policies for undocumented immigrants, Bristow said he supported the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, which would allow many of these immigrants to gain citizenship.

“This bill will drastically increase security at the US southern border,” Bristow said. “These immigrants aren’t taking jobs from Americans, and this is a fallacy that underlies an entire Republican argument against immigration.”

Finally, debaters discussed the government’s role in combating international terrorist organizations such as ISIS. Natalie Brown ’18 of the Cornell Democrats urged thoughtful action on this issue.

“We support a strong response to ISIS, including airstrikes and the use of special forces,” Brown said. “It should be a calculated and strong response, but not brash, not going into something too quickly.”

Moderator Jennifer Kim ’17 said she hopes to make organized debates between the Cornell Republicans and Cornell Democrats an annual or biannual event.

“We thought national security would be an issue that is relevant and contentious enough where each side has a clear position,” Kim said. “These are issues that the average Cornell student might know a little about.”