As part of their experience, the partners were paired up to interview each other about the topic of immigration. They were asked to use a skill called looping, which involves reflecting back on what is heard in conversation to test our comprehension and go deeper. They were tasked with asking a set of questions specifically designed to make the conversation more complex and nuanced.

Here are the questions they asked:

  • Why is the topic of immigration important to you?
  • Tell us about how your experiences have shaped your views on this topic.
  • What do you think is dividing us on this issue? 
  • Are there areas where you feel misunderstood?
  • What’s the question nobody is asking?
  • How would life be better for you if this issue
    was resolved?

I learned both the looping technique and interview questions over the past year through a Complicating the Narratives Fellowship with the Solutions Journalism Network.

Here are excerpts of what the thought partners talked about during their interviews.

Inas Younis, an Overland Park writer who is an immigrant born in Iraq, in conversation with Reynaldo Mesa, Garden City

Why is the topic of immigration important to you?

Illustration of Inas Younis
Credit: Anthony Russo

The American experiment is all about the idea that people with wildly varying demographics, points of views, religions, can coexist peacefully, in a shared space, and become a community. 

We’re proving something to the world. We’re proving the importance of a system bringing people together in a peaceful way. You don’t see that anywhere else on the planet. And in part, we don’t see that because the system is rigged to pit people against each other. Right? There’s no objectivity in any other system on this Earth, not in the way that the United States was able to build. The ideas of individual rights and objective law are really kind of new — new concepts, historically speaking, that we take for granted. But they are the reason that we, a diverse group of people, can live together in peace. Immigration is so much more than just who we let in, who we don’t let in. It’s a philosophical triumph of the American story.

Josey Hammer, a photographer, videographer and marketer in Courtland, in conversation with Dave Sotelo, Hutchinson 

Why is the topic of immigration important to you?

Illustration of Josey Hammer
Credit: Anthony Russo

I feel like it’s such a hot topic, and it’s such a deep topic, that I don’t feel like it’s something people are ever going to agree on. But I feel like the only way to get people to even come to that middle place to understand each other is that everybody gets to hear the same goods and the bads of all of it. And I think that that has to come from personal experiences, because I feel like that’s the only thing that people are actually going to believe at this point.

What’s the question nobody’s asking?

What if some of the things that people say as far as the downside to letting a lot of immigrants in, what if some of those things are true? That’s not what anybody wants to talk about. We want it to be positive, and we want good things to happen.
I want people to be able to come, but what if some
of those things that people are saying, not all of them necessarily even, but what if just some of them are true?

Sotelo who fled Mexico as a child because of death threats against his family, in conversation with Hammer 

Why is the topic of immigration important to you?

Illustration of David Sotelo
Credit: Anthony Russo

Beyond just my personal experience and the experience of my family, I get a call about six times a year from a teacher or a pastor, or just a caring friend, who wants to inquire about their friend’s immigration status. I get a call constantly about, “How do we help this person?” Usually it is framed as: “I know a straight-A student heavily involved in our school or heavily involved in our church. Just an ideal citizen that we need to keep helping. They are undocumented. Is there anything we can do?” I usually will connect them to lawyers. But I know what the answer is, most of the time. I have to say, well, they can either get married or just hope for a miracle. Right? 

I always say, I didn’t get up one day and think, when I was 13 years old, let’s go to J.C. Penney or let’s go shopping in an American mall. I really want to eat a hamburger at Burger King in Hutchinson, Kansas. That was never something that crossed my mind. I loved where I lived. I loved  my community, my school, my friends, my family.

Clemente Bobadilla-Reyes, Wichita, in conversation with Mark Lowry, a small business owner in Stockton

Why is the topic of immigration important to you?

Clemente Bobadilla-Reyes
Credit: Anthony Russo

Being an immigrant myself, immigration is very important to me. Because I lived through it. I watched my parents live through it. I’ve watched other family members go through it. And it’s important to me, because it’s a lot different being on both sides of it.

I was lucky enough that when I was growing up, I didn’t know I was an immigrant. I didn’t know I was illegal until I was much older and I kind of understood the process. But I think nowadays, it’s a lot more polarized. You get villainized a little bit more when you’re an immigrant.

What do you think is dividing us on this issue?Are there areas where you feel misunderstood?

Something that’s kind of my biggest struggle right now is trying to get people to not be so far on either side. I don’t believe in amnesty either. I feel like you should go through the process if you want to be here. I don’t think you should be automatically given something. It could just be the fact that I wasn’t given anything. I don’t believe in handouts. I try to remain very neutral in the middle, but for some reason nowadays, it’s hard to be in the middle, because you are told you have to be on one side or the other. 

Lowry in conversation with Bobadilla-Reyes

Why is the topic of immigration important to you?

Illustration of Mark Lowry
Credit: Anthony Russo

I’m not an immigrant but I do have an adopted daughter. My wife and I adopted a young lady that is an American citizen. Her mother came to California when she was expecting and had her daughter in California. Then after she was born and a United States citizen, they went back to Mexico. She lived most of her youthful life in Mexico.

Due to some family situations there and some conditions, she ended up with some family members from Kansas and ended up in the foster care system. So we adopted a teenager that is an American citizen but really struggled with a lot of the same challenges that probably most immigrants have if they come to the United States. 

For someone with my background, I’m just a white male. I’ve never experienced discrimination on those levels and what that feels like. That’s kind of heartbreaking to me when people don’t understand. Because she couldn’t speak English very well, they didn’t give her much of a chance or treated her differently because of who she was.

It’s important to give others a chance. I think this country is built on diversity. That’s what makes us great is the idea that we have different people from different places all coming together and sharing ideas and sharing resources and how we can live together in peace.

Jim Terrones, retired corrections administrator who lives in Olathe, in conversation with Marty Hillard, Topeka

How would life be better for you if this issue was resolved?

Illustration of Jim Terrones
Credit: Anthony Russo

I was brought up in Newton, Kansas. It’s a railroad community north of Wichita. My grandparents immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Back then, they did their paperwork, and they came because they saw the employment opportunity in America. My grandparents lived in housing next to the railroad, because that’s all they could afford. That’s what the railroad community provided for them until they were able to save enough income to get a home. And both my parents were born in the United States.

My great grandmother, my great grandparents didn’t see (immigration reform). My parents didn’t see it. I would like my brothers and sisters to see it. A lot of my uncles and aunts are now gone. It would be nice if my granddaughter, my nieces and nephews would see some sort of immigration reform, because it’s going to be better for the friends and the colleagues that I know. They’re Dreamers, they’re business owners, they’re paying their taxes, they’re raising their families. They just want to be part of the American dream, if you will. I just think that it would be better. Because when we work together, good things can happen in this country.

Magazine cover featuring an illustration of several people trying to tie a large quarter—with the words "e pluribus unum" inscribed on it—back together

A version of this article appears in the Summer 2023 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit Order your copy of the magazine at the KLC Store or subscribe to the print edition.

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