“It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and another to hear.”
– Henry David Thoreau
The free flow of ideas and opinions is the bedrock of our democracy. We all have a civic responsibility to learn the topics that define our country’s path and then make a decision that is counted every Election Day.
In basic terms, it’s the American way.
We must be as fully informed as possible, weighing the pros and cons of the day’s issues. And often that process is more complicated than it sounds because it involves speaking and, more importantly, listening.
Such was a lesson a group of Victoria residents experienced on a recent Friday evening when they came together to discuss one of the country’s most divisive topics – immigration.
The group gathered for an organized discussion to consider questions such as whether people who enter the country illegally should have a clear pathway to legal status and whether police officers should be required to check a person’s immigration status.
The event was hosted by Center for Peace Victoria and attracted about 15 people who split into two groups to deliberate the issue. The nonprofit has also hosted previous conversations in Victoria about homelessness and housing policy and how to address the political divide.
The moderators, including Danna Cole, the founder of the center, followed a model established by the Baylor Public Deliberation Initiative, which emphasizes moving away from debating or seeing issues as only having two sides and instead encouraging participants to try to learn from each other.
The rules of engagement during the event were basic – maintain an open and respectful atmosphere and be intent about listening.
The model, Cole said, encourages productive dialogue so communities can go beyond looking at an issue and instead find common ground about how to improve the situation.
At one table surrounded by five residents, the comments ranged from an appreciation of how America was founded as a nation of immigrants to the idea that other countries should welcome their fair share of refugees who are fleeing tyranny.
One participant, Vanessa Hicks-Callaway said an area where her group agreed was enforcing the laws against employers who hire immigrants who are not in the U.S. legally.
“They are exploiting these people, not paying them a fair wage, not treating them properly,” she said. “As long as those jobs are being offered, you’re going to have people continue to pour in.”
Sister Rosario Resendez and Sister Marian Sturm, of The Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, spoke about how their faith influenced their views on immigration.
They traveled to El Paso and its sister city, Ciudad Juárez, in September with the U.S. Bishops. The group visited shelters in Mexico, where people seeking to enter the U.S. and seek asylum have been sent to wait until their court cases are decided. The policy, informally known as Remain in Mexico, has sent more than 50,000 asylum seekers back to Mexican cities since it began in January.
“I think faith does inform our decisions to welcome people, but I also know that people who consider themselves as Christian don’t see it that way either,” Sturm said. “It’s just my belief that if you really, truly subscribe to the Scriptures as your foundation, then that’s what they say and that’s what we must live. We must welcome people who are not from our own country.”
When the program ended, some residents said they were encouraged by the program’s honesty and fairness.
That, too, is the American way.
Cole said the Center for Peace Victoria plans to host another public deliberation to discuss mass shootings.
“I want to encourage you all to bring people who think differently than you do,” she told participants. “It’s not constructive if we’re all sitting in our same echo chamber and our same bubble. So let’s try and bring someone that you’d like to have the conversation with but are a little bit scared to.”
We encourage residents with varying opinions to participate in the discussion.