Jeb Bush at Penn's Silfen Forum: D.C. lawmakers are 'complicating immigration policy'

By Deena Elul and Haley Suh. Published in The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Members of the Senate failed to advance any immigration laws on Feb. 15, leaving the fate of various United States immigrants in an ongoing state of limbo. News of the vote came in as hundreds of attendees sat in Irvine Auditorium, listening to former Vice President Joe Biden and former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush discuss immigration policy with Penn President Amy Gutmann.

The two-hour discussion was punctuated by brief personal anecdotes by the panelists. In a particularly memorable moment, Bush described his relationship to his wife, Columba Bush, a Mexican-American philanthropist. 

"My wife is from Mexico, she's a proud Mexican-American. My children are Mexican-American. And to use [immigration] as a wedge issue  if you happen to be sleeping with a beautiful Mexican woman, which I do … " Bush said, prompting applause from the audience. 

"Yes, 43 beautiful years of sleeping with her," he added, to the delight of attendees.

The event, titled “Policy Adrift: A 21st Century Framework for Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Immigration Policy,” is part of the David and Lyn Silfen University Forum, an annual series of panel discussions on contemporary issues.

Other panelists include professor and Director of Columbia University’s Global Policy Initiative Michael Doyle, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard and 2014 College graduate Dau Jok who founded the Dut Jok Youth Foundation to support youth in South Sudan.

Gutmann opened the event with a moment of silence for the victims of the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida before going on to address the subject of the forum: immigration. 

“At its core, immigration is about the fate of millions of individual people,” Gutmann said. 

Jok, a former Penn men's basketball player, spoke about his own experience as an immigrant, adding that it is dangerous to label immigrants as “other.” 

“Each and every one of us in this world, what happens in the other part of the world matters to us,” he said. “There’s a lot of stories, and we need to pause and see them from different perspectives." 

Biden, who recently reaffirmed his partnership with Penn at the formal opening of the Penn Biden Center in Washington D.C, agreed with Gutmann's remarks and added immigration is central to American identity and necessary for economic growth. 

The conversation on stage quickly turned to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The proposed repeal of DACA by the Trump administration has been condemned by Gutmann and prompted a range of student protests on Penn’s campus. 

Just this past week, lawmakers re-opened their discussion of various immigration policies, including DACA and the Temporary Status Program, which is also at risk of being cut

"The DACA issue is the easiest of the immigration issues. We're talking about children who, through no fault of their own, came to this country because their parents came," Bush said. “Even when it’s 85 percent popular, Washington seems to add all the other things in to make it complicated." 

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