By Noah Manalo and Jeremy Halt

Pittsburgh, PA – Each opponent nervously fidgets, eyeing the crowd as they pour in. Armed with a pen, paper, a large water bottle and their wits, they begin to envision the battlefield of ideas that is about to begin.

On Wednesday evening, the Pitt College Republicans and Students For Liberty hosted a debate called “Cato v. Heritage: Will Trump’s Immigration Policies Help?” in the Kurtzman Room of the William Pitt Union. The participants were Alex Nowrasteh and Hans von Spaokvsky, speaking on behalf of the Cato Institute and the Heritage Institute, respectively.

Nowrasteh is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute and Spakovsky is senior legal fellow in Heritage’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, a board member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, and former member of the Federal Election Commission. The moderator, Dr. Paul Kengor, is a former undergraduate and Ph. D. student at the University of Pittsburgh, professor at Grove City College as well as the author of multiple books, including his forthcoming book “A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.”

The hosting groups were allowed entry into the debate room at 7:30 pm, and the general public was admitted at 8:00 p.m.. The line to the room extended past the Tansky Family Lounge almost to the general lobby. Marlo Safi, President of the College Republicans chapter at the University of Pittsburgh commented, “The doors opened and a sea of people flooded in. We were expecting a large turnout, but this was amazing.” The room’s capacity is 200 people, and the room was immediately filled, including a few standers in the back, congregating near the Chick-fil-A sandwiches, gluten-free waffle chips, and sodas provided by the hosting organizations.


The debate structure consisted of general introductions by the hosting club officers, the moderator and the two debaters. Each debater was supposed to be given 15 minutes of alternating, solo, uninterrupted introductory arguments, followed by 10 minutes of alternately solo rebuttal, and concluded with approximately 40 minutes of students Q&A.


Nowrasteh’s positions on immigration rarely overlapped with Spakovsky’s, although there were instances throughout the night that their opinions converged, especially in the idea that the immigration system needs reform. However, Nowrasteh argued that “virtually every portion of President Trump’s immigration plan will negatively impact America,” citing the idea of the benefits immigrants bring to the United States in capacity to work and contribution to the economy.


“Immigration is not charity, it’s actually good for us” Nowrasteh said.


To contrast, Spakovsky would comment that “(The) United States of America is the most generous nation for immigration.” He also added that sanctuary cities will honor federal or state arrest warrants if they are U.S.citizens, but not if they are illegal aliens.


Spakovsky said that many illegal immigrants “are low-skilled and low-educated” and the problems and this poses a problem to blue-collar American workers. He also was very insistent in the use of the phrase “illegal aliens,’ citing the use of it in Texas v. U.S. (2015) court case.  


While each portion of the debate, excluding the Q&A discussion  portion, was supposed to be uninterrupted, some students did not follow these guidelines. The first instance of commotion came midway through Nowrasteh’s introductory arguments. The protesting students began blowing kazoos, loudly coughing and yelling.  Nowrasteh brushed off the hecklers’ quips stating “I’m on your side!” inciting laughter and cheers from the hosting groups’ members.

One by one, other protesters stood up to disrupt and then were ushered out of the room by campus police, who were hired at the insistence of the school’s administration due to the possibility of protests considering the controversial nature of the debate. After police escorted the protesters from the room, they congregated outside and began to protest outside of the building.


Once the panel ended, both panelists were swarmed with eager students anticipating asking the speakers the questions they weren’t able to ask during the Q&A due to the time limit. In addition, students approached and thanked the campus police for maintaining order during the debate. Notable attendees of the event included Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kenyon R. Bonner and Lenny McAllister. McAllister previously challenged Congressman Mike Doyle for his seat as Pennsylvania’s 14th District Representative this past election cycle.  


For more information about the specific protest portion outside of the William Pitt Union, read the article written by contributors Chloe Chappell and William Glomski.


A video of the entire debate can be found on The Pitt Maverick’s Facebook page here.


All photo credits to Madison Holden of The Pitt Maverick.