Should We Stop Taking The World's Huddled Masses?

May 9, 2011

The U.S. is often referred to as a nation built by immigrants. But in recent years, the debate over the country's immigration laws has reached a boiling point.

Some argue that immigrants help the economy; others say they take jobs away from Americans. As the U.S. continues to recover from the Great Recession, is it time to make a distinction between low-skilled and highly skilled immigrants?

Four experts recently took on the topic, facing off two against two in an Oxford-style debate over the motion "Don't Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses" — a twist on the phrase from the famous verse inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

Before the debate, part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. series, the audience at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts voted 16 percent in favor of the motion and 54 percent against, with 30 percent undecided. After the debate, 35 percent supported the motion and 52 percent opposed it, making the side arguing for the motion the winners of the debate; 13 percent remained undecided.

John Donvan, correspondent for ABC News' Nightline, moderated the May 3 debate. Those debating:


Kris Kobach is the Kansas secretary of state and a former professor of constitutional law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He served as counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft during the Bush administration, where he led Justice Department efforts to prevent terrorists from exploiting gaps in U.S. immigration controls. He is the co-author of Arizona's tough immigration bill, SB 1070.

Tom Tancredo is a former Republican congressman from Colorado, who served from 1999 to 2009. Last year, he ran as the Constitution Party's nominee for governor of Colorado. Tancredo founded two not-for-profit education organizations — the Rocky Mountain Foundation and the American Legacy Alliance.


Julian Castro is the mayor of San Antonio. He earned his undergraduate degree from Stanford University (1996) and his law degree from Harvard Law School (2000). In 2005, he founded the Law Offices of Julian Castro, a civil litigation practice.

Tamar Jacoby is president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, a national federation working to advance immigration reform. She is the author of Someone Else's House: America's Unfinished Struggle for Integration; and editor of Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What It Means To Be American, a collection of essays about immigrant integration. She was a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute from 1989 to 2007. Before that, she was a senior writer and justice editor for Newsweek, and the deputy editor of The New York Times op-ed page. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit