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NAFSA 2014 delegates urged to ‘speak out’ for immigration reform

Last week NAFSA, Association of International Educators held the world’s largest annual international education conference in San Diego. The organisation threw its weight behind immigration reform once more as the number of delegates broke the 10,000 mark for the first time.

"It's hard to imagine a more energising way for international educators to spend a week"

“It’s hard to imagine a more energising way for international educators to spend a week,” NAFSA’s CEO, Marlene Johnson, said.

“This is the perfect time to push for immigration laws that respect the history of the US as a country that welcomes immigration”

Speaking at the opening plenary of the association’s 66th annual conference, ‘Pathways to Global Competence’, Johnson told delegates: “This is the perfect time to push for immigration laws that respect the history of the US as a country that welcomes immigration.”

NAFSA President Fanta Aw joined her in urging delegates to sign a letter calling for Congress to “bring commonsense immigration reform to a vote”, calling the issue “a matter of great urgency and an issue vital to our mission and values”.

The association has turned its attention to the House of Representative after the Senate passed an immigration reform bill last year that could expand permanent visas for science graduates, temporary high-skilled visas, and opportunities for incoming entrepreneurs and investors.

On the final day of the conference, the number of signatories to a letter addressed to Speaker of the House Johan Boehner and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy looked set to match last year’s total of around 2,000.

Aw added that Grammy award-winners La Santa Cecilia, were chosen to perform at the sunny opening ceremony along with Michael Franti & Spearhead (see video footage here) for their vocal support of immigration reform as well as their musical talent.

While the conference opening placed domestic issues at the forefront of the week’s agenda, the choice of plenary speakers throughout the week, in keeping with this year’s theme, demonstrated a desire to take lessons from activists across the globe.

Plenary speaker Kakenya Ntaiya addresses delegates

Plenary speaker Kakenya Ntaiya addresses delegates

Speakers included Kakenya Ntaiya, champion of girls’ education and founder of the Kakenya Center for Excellence in Kenya; José Ramos-Horta, United Nations special Representative and Head of the UN Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau; and Albie Sachs, a former South African Constitutional Court judge and anti-apartheid advocate.

Ajaya Jonas, Study Abroad Coordinator at Loyola Marymount University, told The PIE News that the conference helped her to see her work in a global context.

“I send a lot of students abroad because I believe in the transformational nature of international experience, but sometimes you get stuck in the nitty-gritty of the stuff you have to do,” she said. “Coming to NAFSA reminds me that there is a bigger purpose and there are colleagues I can learn from.”

“Coming to NAFSA reminds me that there is a bigger purpose and there are colleagues I can learn from”

Popular issues on this year’s packed timetable of panels and presentations included immigration and visa compliance, with a series of sessions hosted by the governmental Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), and digital marketing and social media, with speakers from IDP noting that 39% of students they surveyed said social media influenced their decision to study abroad.

Latin America was another hot topic, as many universities look to expand their intake of students from the region; Francisco Marmolejo, Tertiary Education Coordinator at The World Bank, suggested that a notable increase in attendance at Latin America-related sessions compared to previous years demonstrated “a sign of change”.

By night, delegates networked at an impressive range of receptions hosted by various delegations and sponsors.

For many attendees, the opportunity to meet new contacts and reconnect with global and US partners was a key highlight of the conference.

“I get to see people I only see once a year from all over the world, and it’s so inspiring to see people coming together,” Megan Serenco, International Student Advisor at Pacific University Oregon, told The PIE News.

La Santa Cecilia has recorded a special acoustic performance of their immigration reform anthem “El Hielo” for NAFSA, available to watch here.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 12.14.02

Captured on video, the open air performance by Michael Franti & Spearhead at the impressive opening ceremony

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