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Immigration Dialogues

Addressing Immigration Questions: A Participatory Model

After Monthly Review Press first published The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers in 2007, co-authors Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson developed a participatory dialogue model which we have used with college classrooms, church groups, community organizations, and bookstores across the country, from Long Island to Kansas City to San Diego.

We generally start with all participants (including the facilitators) introducing themselves. Then we ask people to share a question or concern about immigration. It can be a concern for them personally, or something they hear from family, coworkers, friends, or the media. They may feel the concern is misplaced, but have trouble finding a good answer.

A facilitator or a volunteer writes the questions and statements up on a chalkboard or butcher paper where everyone can see them. We then start with what seem to be the most pressing questions, and ask participants to share their own answers. We guide the discussion with facts and information where needed, as well as with more questions.

Writing the statements and questions sets a tone that encourages participation. People can be shy at first, but as more questions go up on the board, people gain confidence and add their own. (Sometimes it’s a challenge to cut off the questions so we can start getting to the responses!)

Instead of dismissing or avoiding questions that seem anti-immigrant, we acknowledge them and write them down with the others. This has an interesting effect: even people who start out antagonistic to a pro-immigrant perspective seem to feel heard, and willing to participate and listen. Then, when we start facilitating the responses, these are directed at the questions on the board, not the individuals who originally posed them, so no one is put on the spot. We are critiquing and challenging ideas together, not attacking or shutting people down for sharing them.

An alternative dialogue model involves asking participants to imagine they are completely rewriting immigration policy. We start by asking what the problems are with current immigration policy, and we write those problems on the board. We then work with participants—either all together or breaking into smaller groups—to come up with alternative policies.

Usually the dialogue sessions are scheduled for one to two hours, although we are open to longer or shorter sessions. At the end, there may also be informal discussions between participants, and books might be available for signing and sales. If a community group is sponsoring the event, group members could collect donations for their work.

Please contact us if you’d like to get more information, invite us to hold a dialogue with your group, or ask us how to set up a dialogue of your own.