February 10, 2013

SKORTON: On Immigration Reform

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The time has come for comprehensive immigration reform. My father and his family immigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union — what is now Belarus — in order to find better opportunities and a more secure life. Like countless other immigrants over the course of American history, he worked hard, paid taxes and, eventually, became a US citizen. He passed on to me an appreciation of the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship. But under current U.S. immigration policy, people like my father have fewer chances of creating a better life for themselves and their families here.

With President Obama making immigration reform a key focus of his second term, and the issue attracting strong bipartisan support in the Senate and more recently the House (a bipartisan House group is expected to announce its proposal by Feb. 12), the time is right to reform the system.

From the perspective of a major research university with a large population of international students and a founding ideal of providing a place where “any person can find instruction in any study,” I see three issues related to immigration reform that are of particular importance and urgency: higher education’s responsibility to contribute to “brain circulation” globally; our need at home for graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, and “DREAMers.”

First, brain circulation. American universities, including land-grant universities like Cornell, have a long history of training talented students from developing nations, who then return home to put their advanced skills to work as leaders in their own countries. The US may gain a competitive advantage when highly trained and educated people decide to stay in the US, but the home country loses the talented individuals it needs for progress, as well as the scarce resources often invested in students they have sent abroad.

Original Author: David J. Skorton