Friday, September 20, 2013

College leaders support immigration reform

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2013 at 11:03 AM

click to enlarge dream_act_110810-thumb-640xauto-1497.jpg

Write these names down. Remember them kindly:

· Dr. Joel Anderson; Chancellor, University of Arkansas – Little Rock

· Dr. Paul B. Beran; Chancellor, University of Arkansas – Fort Smith

· Dr. Sally Carder; President, National Park Community College

· Dr. Steve Cole; Chancellor, Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas

· Dr. Glen Fenter; President, Mid-South Community College

· Dr. Margaret Ellibee; President, Pulaski Technology College

· Dr. Jack Lassiter; Chancellor University of Arkansas – Monticello

· Skip Rutherford; Dean, University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service

They've signed a letter you'll find on the jump urging Congress to pass immigration reform legislation. The DREAM Act would provide a path to resident status for young people who get a college education or serve in the military. The higher education leaders say the economy would be stimulated and a shortage of technical jobs could be addressed  by encouraging a way for more immigrants to attend college.

Sadly missing in action are such putative leaders as Chancellor David Gearhart of the Fayetteville branch of the University of Arkansas, where growth in the Latino student population has been huge; the entire Arkansas State University System, headed by Charles Welch, and Tom Courtway, president of the University of Central Arkansas. Say what you will about Courtway's predecessor, Lu Hardin, but he was righteous and outspoken in his advocacy of finding a place at UCA for the children of immigrants who came to the country without legal status, prospered in Arkansas high schools and wanted to advance themselves in the country they consider home. All public and private college leaders were asked to participate. Many expressed support, but declined to sign the letter, a spokesman for the effort said.

ADDED COMMENT: Yes, I told a UA caller, I am aware that Chancellor Gearhart has publicly advocated the cause of immigration reform and the DREAM Act in the past. Perhaps "surprise," given the context, would have been a better word than "sadly" about his absence. A UA spokesman says Gearhart got an inquiry about joining such a letter, but wasn't familiar with the organization seeking his participation and so was reluctant to join when he couldn't get more information about it. Gearhart does reside in a congressional district represented by one of the most rabid foes of immigration support, Steve Womack, who famously lectured a Latino man for asking him a question about immigration in what Womack considered improper attire, including a T-shirt bearing a Mexican flag.

p.s. speaking of immigration issues, Elizabeth Young, director of the U of A Law School Immigration Clinic, will discuss the important work in immigration law that the Clinic does in Northwest Arkansas at the Arkansas Times Festival of Ideas this Saturday. Reserve a seat. 

The letter:
Dear Delegation Member:

As leaders of Arkansas’ two-year and four-year colleges and universities, educating the next generation of entrepreneurs, scientists, and global pioneers, we call on you to address a critical threat to America's preeminence as the center of innovation and prosperity: our inability under current United States immigration policy to retain and capitalize on the talented individuals we are training in our universities.

Fixing our immigration system will be critical to scientific growth at Arkansas’ higher education institutions and economic growth in our state. In 2009, 46 percent of the students earning Master’s or PhDs in STEM fields from Arkansas’ research-intensive universities were temporary residents, a group with no clear path to stay in America after graduation. More than half of our students earning engineering PhDs in recent years were also non-citizens.

Foreign-born students create jobs for Arkansas and often provide the technological innovations that drive economic growth in the state. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 foreign-born graduates of a US Master’s or PhD program who stay in America working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for American workers. In Arkansas, that translates into a significant employment boost: our share of foreign-born STEM advanced degree holders working in STEM fields grew by 303 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Our students often go on to start companies, which support communities and create jobs. Immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business and immigrant-owned businesses in Arkansas generate about $287 million in income for the state each year.

Our educational institutions thrive when all of Arkansas’ industries thrive, and research shows that passing immigration reform will benefit all sectors of the state’s economy. Our $7.5 billion agriculture sector needs workers in order to grow and expand. Immigration reform would mean more jobs for U.S. citizens and immigrants and greater production capacities for our farmers. In the housing sector, immigrants increased home values in Arkansas between 2000 and 2010 – by $1,050 for the median home in Pulaski County.

Many of our bright future students came to this country as children and have been unable to take advantage of an American education and contribute to our economy because of their status. A recent study found that incentivizing these children to pursue college education by passing the DREAM Act would add 1.4 million jobs and generate $329 billion in economic activity over the next 20 years. In fact, creating a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants will have a positive effect for our state’s economy. According to a study by Regional Economic Models, Inc., for every person who enrolls, an estimated $5,554 will be added to our Gross State Product by 2020.

Our current immigration system creates real obstacles to growth. Low limits on high-skilled visas leave immigrants with no way to stay after earning a diploma or they face untenable delays for a permanent visa. Low limits on low-skilled visas leave farmers struggling to find the workers they need to produce, grow, and harvest. Meanwhile, too many people are living in the shadows unable to join our workforce, gain an education, and contribute to the economy they live in while we face real worker shortages and slow economic growth. For example, according to the nonpartisan advocacy group Change the Equation, from 2009 to 2011 more than 2 STEM jobs were posted online in Arkansas for every one unemployed STEM worker in the state.

Arkansas cannot afford to wait to fix our immigration system. We ask you to work together to develop a comprehensive, bipartisan solution because all parts of our economy – from education to agriculture to housing to business – need it. A recent poll shows that 67 percent of Arkansas voters support the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, while 87 percent believe it is important we fix our immigration system this year. Now is the time for Washington leaders to act and ensure that the US can continue to compete on the global stage.

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