KENNEWICK -- Kamiakin High School junior Makayla Bashore already thought illegal immigration was wrong.
On Tuesday, she found herself strongly agreeing with Kennewick City Councilman Bob Parks, who argued that if the government stopped giving citizens who can work a free ride on welfare, they would be willing to work jobs that illegal immigrants currently fill.
More than 250 Kamiakin High School juniors and seniors attended a debate Tuesday about illegal immigration between Parks and Pasco immigration attorney Tom Roach.
Although Bashore didn't change her opinion based on what she heard, the 16-year-old said it was a good chance to hear differing views.
Roach told students that an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants are in the United States, about the total population of Washington, Oregon and Idaho together.
He argued that undocumented workers are filling a need in the economy for people willing to take minimum wage jobs without benefits such as farm work.
Undocumented workers are here illegally because the current system provides only 5,000 green cards per year for unskilled workers nationwide, which isn't in touch with reality, Roach said.
Chad Potter, Kamiakin government teacher, said the debate was a chance for seniors in his class to hear about the immigration issue from professional adults who firmly believe what they are saying.
As a teacher, Potter said he is careful to balance the viewpoints on illegal immigration. It's something the class normally goes over in spring while studying current events.
Roach and Parks provide a good example to students because they can disagree on an issue while staying calm, Potter said.
Kamiakin Senior Brandon Dickey said illegal immigration is a problem that needs to be fixed.
Dickey, 18, said he also found himself agreeing with Parks. Although he did agree with Roach's idea that the United States needs a functional seasonal worker program so migrant workers legally can come and work seasonally, such as in local agriculture.
Parks argued that part of the illegal immigration problem is that the country's labor laws are too restrictive.
Roach told students that most people don't want to work the low-skill jobs that undocumented workers do. When he asked, only one student indicated he wanted one of those jobs as a career. And Roach replied he doubted that student was serious.
But Bashore said she didn't get a job at nearby orchards because illegal immigrants already are doing that sort of work.
And later, another student yelled out that there would always be youths willing to work unskilled seasonal jobs.
Bashore said she was skeptical of Roach's assertion that illegal immigrants aren't in the welfare system.
Dickey agreed that people would be able to find ways around the welfare system, even though Roach said the government checks Social Security numbers before approving welfare.
Illegal immigration is an important topic to discuss because it's one of the top issues the nation faces, along with health care, Dickey said.
"I think all schools should look at this," he said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org