A conversation on President Trump’s border wall proposal turned into a face-off on broader issues of immigration Sunday at Politicon, the annual political convention in Pasadena.
The panel discussion, called “Mr. Trump, Tear Down this Wall,” featured the African-American activist and commentator the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson speaking in favor of the border barrier and opponents like Hector Villagra, ACLU of Los Angeles executive director, arguing against it.
The debate came three days after the House approved $1.6 billion for part of the wall's construction, an amount tucked into a $8 billion spending bill for defense and veteran programs, the Associated Press reported.
Trump said Mexico would pay for the border wall that he campaigned for and Mexico has said that payment won't happen.
Peterson supports the wall, saying his community is economically threatened by people who come here illegally.
“Israel has a wall," he said. "Other countries have put up walls around their borders, so why not put up a big beautiful wall to protect the citizens?”
Villagra said the facts argue against a wall.
The number of people crossing the border has been falling for years, Villagra said. Border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico are at their lowest levels since the 1970s, with the declines continuing through the Obama and Trump administrations.
"Half of the immigrants into our country don't come through the border," he added. "They fly into our country and through our airports."
Julissa Arce, an activist and immigrant herself, said fears that immigrants will take away jobs from Americans are groundless.
“We need to stop telling people that if you get rid of me, you’d still have a job because you wouldn’t," she said.
Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) said countries that don't have immigration or oppose immigration stagnate.
"America keeps renewing itself because of immigration, because of our diversity. And at the end of the day, you can have different opinions on this. But the actual facts are immigration makes America stronger," he said.
But Arce said the most effective way to stop illegal immigration is to "create a legal immigration system that actually works for 21st century America."
As the contentious conversation wrapped up, moderator Krystal Ball of MSNBC, called for unity.
"If we can't find a way to loving one another, then we can't solve any of the big problems," she said.