International Education Is Key to Making Immigration Reform Work for America

March 26, 2010

By Heather Stewart

There is near universal agreement that the U.S. immigration system is broken, but what we don’t agree on is how to fix it. NAFSA believes that Congress must understand the pivotal role international education plays in U.S. higher education and include reforms that expand the United States' ability to attract foreign students and scholars from around the world. They fuel our economy and boost job creation. As professors, researchers and colleagues, they help us prepare American students to compete in the global workforce, while at the same time, they connect us to the leadership of other countries as they return to their home countries. But where does Washington stand on the immigration debate?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano weighed in on immigration reform yesterday at Arizona State University, capping a week in which the issue reclaimed the headlines as the long debate over health care legislation wound down. In addition to talking about enforcement and border issues, Napolitano emphasized in her speech that America needs a fair and open immigration system. She reiterated the administration’s commitment to addressing immigration reform, and said: "We have to cast aside the notion that our liberty and our security are two opposing values. . . . You cannot live freely if you live in fear."

President Obama has pledged to do everything in his power “to forge a bipartisan consensus this year on this important issue so we can continue to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform.” Last week Senators Charles Schumer (D – N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R – S.C.) took a good first step by issuing their long-anticipated framework for comprehensive immigration reform. But this week, Sen. Graham said that immigration reform is “dead.” Historically, immigration reform is an issue that cuts across party lines, only succeeding with bipartisan cooperation.

Now is the time to stop playing politics with issues that are of critical importance to our country. Americans send politicians to Washington to work on our behalf on the tough issues, not to bicker on the sidelines. Immigration reform is a moral and economic imperative, not a political football to be fumbled or kicked down the field. When our members of Congress treat immigration as a game, we all lose.

NAFSA applauds efforts to advance a productive national conversation on immigration and urges Congress to move forward with fair, effective reform that will lift up Americans to compete in the global economy, reflect our fundamental values as a nation of immigrants, and make the United States welcoming and accessible to the world’s best talent and future leaders. To learn more, see our statement issued today and read NAFSA’s policy recommendations with respect to immigration and visa policy in our report, A Visa and Immigration Policy for the Brain-Circulation Era: Adjusting to What Happened in the World While We Were Making Other Plans.




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