We're not joking. American folk hero Tom Tancredo actually won a debate on immigration in front of an audience in New York City. Whereas former Governor Bill Ritter brought shame to Colorado when he had his ass handed to him at the same Intelligence Squared debate series in March, Tancredo brought his A-Game and mopped the floor with his opposition.
When we first heard of the debate topic and who Tancredo was going to be debating we thought he was crazy for even considering it. But as everyone in Colorado has learned many times before — never underestimate the Tanc.
The resolution that Tancredo and the Secretary of State of Kansas, Kris Kobach, were arguing for, only miles from Ellis Island, was "don't give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses." They were arguing against Julian Castro, Mayor of San Antonio, TX, and Tamar Jacoby, a journalist and head of an immigration reform group. The audience was polled at the beginning and then again at the completion of the debate.
The final result: Blowout. Tancredo not only gained every undecided that switched their vote after the debate was over, but his opposition actually lost two percent who agreed with them at the beginning of the debate.
The debate had some interesting moments of agreement on key facts. Both sides agreed that there are slightly over 11 million illegal immigrants in the country and that the negative effect of illegal immigration on wages is about 7-8% in the short term and 3-4% in the long term for every 10% growth of illegal workers that move into an employment sector.
Perhaps the most striking part of the debate was how the crowd behaved towards each side versus the end result. Over the course of the two hours, liberals in the audience booed Tancredo's side and the host had to ask questioners to stop their ad hominem attacks, as it wasn't benefiting anyone. It was nothing new to Tancredo and his teammate, and they plowed ahead making their case. Based on crowd reaction you would have thought Tancredo was in for a shellacking when they re-polled the audience at the end. But, as anyone who has been around politics knows, loudest support is not always a sign of widest support.
Through their logical and well-argued case, Tancredo and Kobach effectively won over every persuadable audience member. The case they made was based on the idea that the US should be able to accept "the cream of the crop," not just anyone who wants to come. They argued that America is an immigration nation, but one that has succeeded by having immigration levels and types of immigrants based on the country's needs at the time. The large wave of unskilled labor that immigrated in the early 20th century made sense because of the industrial revolution, but America's periods of low immigration have also made sense to allow time for immigrants already here to assimilate.
The opposing side made some fair points about immigration, but mostly seemed to make the point that immigrants are more likely to start businesses and be doctors and scientists than natural born citizens. A fair point, but one that actually helped Tancredo's case more than it helped theirs.
No matter what you believe on immigration you will learn something interesting by watching the debate.
If you want to learn more about the Intelligence Squared debate series, check it out here.
Check out the full debate: