Sparks flied Monday night as college Democrats and college Republicans from around the state descended on DePaul to debate the issues just weeks before the election.
The debate, the first ever jointly sponsored event of this nature by the College Democrats of Illinois (CDIL) and Illinois College Republican Federation (ICRF), was a polite exchanging of ideas for most of the night, but turned heated at times when divisive election year topics such as immigration and criminal justice came up.
The participants, who came from universities around the state, made clear they differed from their presidential nominees on topics like free trade and the role of third party candidates in elections. But, when immigration, arguably the most contentious issue of this cycle, came up, each side dug in with their party’s candidate.
DePaul student Jack McNeil, president of CDIL, echoed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s call for comprehensive immigration reform. He argued for undocumented immigrants to pay back taxes and fines for the opportunity to eventually apply for citizenship.
“That’s not amnesty, it’s a practical solution to a big, big problem,” McNeil said. “The idea that you can put up a wall to divide people and then deport 11 million people is absolutely ridiculous.”
But, Republican John Minster, also from DePaul, argued that another law to fix immigration would not be necessary if the government enforced the laws on the books.
“You apply the law, that’s the problem right now is our immigration law is not being complied. So what does that mean? The problem is right now that the federal government that doesn’t really apply the law. They pick and choose which laws they want to apply,” Minster said.
Minster said building a border wall on the southern border along with a nationwide e-verify system and the ending of sanctuary cities would go a long way towards fixing the country’s immigration system.
But, McNeil was not sold.
“We don’t to enforce the law, we need a new law,” McNeil said.
However, when asked by the moderator, Politico’s Natasha Korecki, how the Democrats would work to pass what they are proposing given Republican roadblocks, McNeil said, “we have to elect more Democrats.”
This stark divide was perhaps never more apparent when the discussion turned towards race and policing. Republican Sebastian Balluff, a student at Illinois State, dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement as “corrupt and sick” while criticizing them and the Democrats for ignoring where he believes the focus should be: black-on-black crime.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is just something that does not focus on the actual killers of most black Americans. The killers of most black Americans are at the hands of each other through gang warfare. That’s the fact,” Balluff said. “The amount of cops killing black people, usually criminals by the way, is minuscule when compared to the amounts of people killed everyday just in Chicago at each other’s hands.”
When asked if he’d concede people of color are treated unfairly in the criminal justice system when compared to white people, Balloff said no, causing a small gasp from the decidedly liberal-leaning audience.
“They commit more crime and are locked up disproportionately because of that,” Balloff said. “That’s not unfair. That’s called the police doing their job and putting criminals in prison.”
Democrat Sydney Selix, a student from Northwestern, pushed back on the black-on-black narrative, saying it’s “avoiding the actual issue,” which she said is the killing of black people for non-crimes like traffic stops or crossing in the middle of the street.
Selix was asked about the flip side of the coin, the police officers who feel as if they’re under attack in the media and in the communities they serve. While acknowledging that such acts happen, they are rare and not the issue at hand.
“They are facing accountability, they are not facing violence,” Selix said. “Yes, there are small acts of atrocious crimes, I’m not defending them. But, the issue at hand is the state sanctioned violence against young black men and young black women.”
About 100 people attended two and a half hour-long event, held in Cortelyou Commons. In addition to immigration and criminal justice, topics like taxes, abortion rights and free speech were discussed.
While DePaul Democrats and Republicans typically debate at least once a year, Republican President Nicole Been thought the inclusion of officers from other schools was a “breath of fresh air.”
“I hope this is something the state will want to continue in the future,” Been said. “I think it was really substantive and we talked a lot about policy and a lot of great points were brought up by both sides.”
Been’s favorite part of the night was the section on free speech, a relevant topic at DePaul given the recent controversies surrounding Milo Yiannopoulos’ visit and Ben Shapiro’s subsequent ban from speaking on campus.
“I think if people went to this debate and saw it, they would get a better understanding of the discourse we need to be having on free speech than the discourse the university is trying to push forward,” Been said.
McNeil thought the event “went as well as it could.”
“I think everyone performed really well, the crowd was great, just really blessed we could get Natasha here because it added validity to the event,” McNeil said.