Damon Winter / The New York Times

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump shake hands at the start of their presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

September 26, 2016

Panel Previews Issues Dominating 2016 Election Before First Debate

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Over 1,000 Cornellians packed into Bailey Hall on Monday night to attend Educate the Vote, an event that aimed to provide students with necessary political information to watch the 2016 election’s first, highly anticipated, presidential debate.

The event featured a four-person panel, which debated issues of immigration and incarceration, and was timed to finish just as the presidential debate began. Students were allowed remain in the audience to watch the debate from a large screen on the stage.

The panel began with opening remarks from speakers, focusing on their areas of expertise. Reihan Salam, the executive editor of the National Review and a National Review Institute Policy fellow, discussed the way that our historic perspective on immigration may not be valid today.

“If you’re thinking about increasing upward mobility of everyone, you may have to think about creating an immigration policy that is very different from immigration policy of the past,” he said, drawing attention to the difficulties second generation citizens face in achieving economic success.

Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, discussed the history of incarceration policy in Southern states, emphasizing the success of alternatives to simple incarceration.

“Most people want to be incarceration to be for those we’re afraid of, not those we’re mad at,” Levin said.

Prof. Vesla Mae Weaver, African American studies, Yale University focused on racial inequalities in incarceration, asserting that “the prison system was not the result of happenstance.”

“It was the result of explicit policy choices visited upon the most vulnerable American citizens and communities that has just pulled the yoke off of Jim Crow,” she said.

Despite their ideological differences, Levin and Weaver agreed that removing the small fee system — which, in locations like Ferguson, Missouri, penalizes citizens for minor issues like unkempt lawns and public profanity — could be an effective way for either candidate to address the United States’ high levels of incarceration.

While Levin dismissed “for-profit” prisons as a large part of the issue of incarceration, Weaver remarked upon “how much they agreed.”

Prof. Karthick Ramakrishnan, public policy and political science, University of California, Riverside, noted in an interview that campaign rhetoric has fundamentally changed immigration policy discussions.

“[The] way that Donald Trump has framed immigration … is not the fact on the ground,” Ramakrishan said. “We have net negative immigration from Mexico, and yet what we’re talking about is building a wall.”

Ramakrishnan added that Hillary Clinton has failed to energize and inspire discussion of immigration that focuses more solidly on facts.

“The Clinton campaign strategy seems to be to let Donald Trump ‘fall on his own sword’ and that enough Asian and Latino voters will come out against him,” he said. “But that’s not clear especially among younger voters… they need to be inspired to vote for someone. And that’s the challenge for Clinton.”

The event was extremely popular on campus and sold out quickly, according to Isa Fortuño ’17, a manager at the Willard Straight Hall Resource Center, one of the locations selling tickets.

“We ran out of tickets six days before the event,” Fortuño said.

Sam Turer ’18, one of the event’s student organizers, said all tickets were distributed within a few days and that students have said “they’re excited to learn more than just sound bites from the event.”

The event — planned in part by the Policy Analysis and Management department of the College of Human Ecology — was organized to “inform Cornell students and the greater community about the issues most relevant in the election,” Turer said.

Ramakrishnan said he hoped the panel “energized” students to not only vote but also find other ways to impact politics.

“Youth engagement is so critical to vitality of our democracy,” he said before the event. “I’m hoping that an event like this will get people engaged not only in the election but in important policies regarding immigration and incarceration.”

Turer shared Ramakrishnan’s sentiment, adding that he hopes students use their knowledge responsibly.

“I hope that by attending tonight and learning more about the issues they can become informed citizens who drive change,” he said.