Fourth annual debate aims to spark public discussion

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This story was originally written for the Anchorage Press.
A hot-button topic throughout the 2016 election and one that continues to bring out strong opinions in Facebook arguments and family dinners is immigration policy in the United States.

On Nov. 13, the Seawolf Debate Program and Alaska Dispatch News are co-sponsoring the fourth annual Arguing Alaska Debate Series.

Picking a topic that sparks public debate and has experts readily available is the job of Steve Johnson, who has been the Director of the Seawolf Debate Program for 23 years.

The recently proposed Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE Act, received support from President Donald Trump in August of this year. The bill was proposed by Republican senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue in February, which plans on reducing the number of issued green cards by 50 percent.

“Not every proposal is racist, not every proposal is motivated by malice, and regardless of what you think of the authors of a particular legislative proposal, there are countries that are very much like ours that have this exact same immigration policy in place. I think that merits discussion,” Steve Johnson said.

Local specialists on immigration include Anchorage’s First Lady, Mara Kimmel and Margaret Stock, who will participate as guest judges.

Kimmel has practiced law in Alaska since 1996 and co-founded the Alaska Institute for Justice, which is Alaska’s only non-profit agency that provides low-cost immigration legal services and research and policy analysis on issues impacting human rights in the state. She is on faculty at the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University.

Margaret Stock is an attorney specialized in immigration and citizenship law who has testified before Congressional committees on the subject. She is a former U.S. Senate candidate and professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point and as an adjunct instructor at UAA.

Two two-person teams from the Seawolf Debate Program will be paired against each other to discuss the current public policy controversies happening in the nation, while Kimmel and Stock will question the debaters during the event.

The motion for the debate is, “only the most qualified should be permitted to immigrate to the U.S.”

Sam Erickson is a seasoned debater on the team who participated in last year’s Arguing Alaska Debate Series. The motion for last year’s debate was “will Alaska thrive under a Trump presidency?”

Through the Seawolf Debate Program, Erickson has had the opportunity to travel to Malaysia, the Netherlands and China. He encourages participants of the event to voice their opinions in the theatre.

“The British Parliamentary format that we do encourages audience interaction to a large degree. We want people to pound on tables when they agree and say, ‘here here!’ and really get involved in the process,” Erickson said.

Stephanie Johnson is the general manager at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub & Grill and helping hand in coordinating the venue space.

“There’s a lot of really polarizing, all-or-nothing, us-versus-them-type conversations that seem to be happening a lot in the world, but debate really is a far more open-minded way to approach having a conversation,” Stephanie Johnson said.

The event is $15 for the general public; tickets can be purchased online or at the Bear Tooth box office. All proceeds from the event go towards the Seawolf Debate Program.

“I hope that people approach this with an open mind,” Steve Johnson said.

The Author

Hi! My name is Sam Davenport. I am a freelance writer and lifelong Alaskan who loves reporting on the state’s history, food and culture. I am a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, where I received bachelors degrees in journalism and political science. I was the executive editor of The Northern Light — UAA’s student-run newspaper — for 2.5 years During my time at UAA, I completed internships at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. I am the managing editor of The Spenardian, an award-winning hyper-local news blog and magazine for the neighborhood of Spenard. I have been published in Vice, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News, The Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Magazine, Alaska Business, The Northern Light, The Anchorage Press, The Frontiersman, Alaska’s Energy Desk, KSKA, KTOO, Last Frontier Magazine, Crude Magazine, Mountain View Post, The Spenardian, Alaska Contractor Magazine, Wildheart Magazine and True North Magazine. For freelancing rates or a copy of my resume, please email me at

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