Today, university presidents and chancellors across the nation are speaking out about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. As educators and civic leaders, we recognize the imperative for Congress and the White House to act on this important issue. The consequences of inaction will extend far beyond America’s campuses. They will affect the future of our nation’s economy and its global competitiveness.
Bright, highly motivated students from around the world come to GW every year, many to study subjects of great importance to the U.S. economy --subjects, for instance, in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Yet many of them are forced to leave the U.S. upon graduation because immigration laws do not provide them with a viable path to permanent legal residency or citizenship. At a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, B.A. ’85, mentioned one such GW student, Fiona Zhou, as a talented individual who would benefit from a STEM visa program. Fiona and similar students should have an opportunity to stay here, pursue their dreams, and help advance our economy.
Many children arrive in America as undocumented immigrants. Without permanent residency status or a pathway to citizenship, they are denied access to higher education and remain marginalized in our society. When they are prevented from achieving their dreams, we all lose.
The status quo, which compels young men and women possessing skill and ingenuity to leave our shores, imposes profound opportunity costs on our economy. A recent study found that, on average, for every foreign-born, advanced-degree graduate in a STEM field who remains in the United States, an additional 2.62 jobs are created for American workers. Furthermore, immigrants start a quarter of the engineering and technology companies founded in the U.S. They are inventing many of the products that will drive American innovation over the coming decades.
Finally, the very nature of our democracy is incompatible with a system that leaves many millions of its residents without an opportunity to participate in the workings of democracy itself. With each generation, we must do more than rededicate ourselves to the proposition that America is a nation of immigrants. We must redefine and revitalize that proposition in light of contemporary needs. Now is the time to act on the critical proposals for change pending before Congress.