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Skorton: Reform immigration to keep best minds in U.S.

David Skorton

Cornell President David Skorton has called on 1,200 college and university presidents to push for "smart" immigration reform to attract and retain the world's brightest minds. Skorton and the presidents of Arizona State University and Miami Dade College signed a March 6 open letter that calls on Congress to implement visa reform for students who are earning advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

"Many of us have lost sight of the important contributions immigrants have made -- and are making -- to our culture and our economy," Skorton said. "Their continued contributions are critical to our country's success."

In their letter Skorton, Arizona's Michael J. Crow and Miami Dade's Eduardo J. Padrón write: "We invite you to join us in bringing attention to one of the biggest challenges facing our colleges and universities: How U.S. immigration laws impact our ability to attract, retain and educate the world's leading minds."

The three presidents will host events on their respective campuses April 19 to highlight the role of immigration in driving innovation and creating American jobs, and they are encouraging others school presidents to follow suit. "By speaking with one coordinated voice," they write, "we can best bring our message to the public and to our representatives in Washington, D.C."

They continue: "Our classes help shape the next generation of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, creators of culture, and thinkers, while our labs help bring the next great ideas to life. Too often, however, our ability to educate and our ability to innovate are frustrated by U.S. immigration laws. … we train many of the brightest minds of the world, only to have those students sent abroad to compete against us because our immigration laws do not provide a viable path for them to stay."

Current immigration laws hurt the United States, the presidents write, noting that at the top 10 U.S. patent-producing universities, 76 percent of the patents received in 2011 had an immigrant inventor. They cite a study that finds that every foreign-born advanced-degree graduate working in a STEM field who stays in the United States creates 2.62 jobs for American workers.

The presidents also note that existing immigration laws penalize foreign-born students upon high school graduation, when many students who arrived in the United States as children are prevented from attending college because of their undocumented status.

"As we deny young people in our country who are qualified to attend college access to higher education, we deny our country the talent we very much need," Skorton, Crow and Padrόn write. The three are working with the Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan coalition of more than 500 CEOs and mayors making the economic case for immigration reform, and the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy organization.

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John Carberry