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US Immigration: Educators lobby, Democrats push for vote

International educators and students urged representatives on Capitol Hill last week to push for immigration reform as part of NAFSA‘s annual Advocacy Day. Meanwhile, House Democrats have launched a petition to force the hand of House Republicans who have put off mooting an immigration bill that, among other reforms, provides a direct citizenship path for undocumented immigrants.

More than 140 international educators and students visited Capitol Hill to meet with their congressional representatives. Photo: Elliott P.

“Educated students are exactly the kinds of immigrants we should encourage to stay in the United States”

The more than 140 participants from 32 states met with congressional representatives to lobby two key issues: comprehensive, ‘commonsense’ immigration legislation and the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act, which would fund one million students to study abroad for credit annually by 2020.

“Advocacy Day is just one way we help advance legislation for the betterment of international education”

Jill Welch, NAFSA’s Deputy Executive Director of Public Policy, said the event empowers international educators and students.

“We recognise that effective advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint, and Advocacy Day is just one way we help advance legislation for the betterment of international education, and a more peaceful world,” she told The PIE News.

The USA’s current immigration law was drafted in the 1950s, and is no longer considered fit for purpose by many in the international education field, particularly when taking into account the contribution of foreign students to the US economy.

“Educated students are exactly the kinds of immigrants we should encourage to stay in the United States,” claims NAFSA. “We should not force them, before they even start their studies, to say that they have no intention of staying, working, and contributing to the economies and communities of the United States after they graduate.”

The economic impact of immigration reform was also highlighted by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi this week in a statement supporting the “sensible, bipartisan” HR 15 immigration reform bill that she said would fix the country’s “broken immigration system”.

With the bill, similar to a Senate bill approved last June, she said, “we can build a brighter future for our nation, grow the economy, and single handedly reduce the deficit by $900 billion over the next two decades”.

Amanda Roshan-Rawaan, Executive Assistant to the Associate Provost at Georgia State University‘s Office of International Initiatives, met with three congressional representatives on Advocacy Day.

“We had three really great meetings, during which we felt like we had a chance to voice our concerns as constituents and international educators, and we also got to learn more about how our Congressmen feel about the issues,” she told The PIE News.

Echoing Welch’s belief that advocacy results don’t come quickly, Roshan-Rawaan said the “familiar faces” she’s seen after three years of lobbying have made her efforts easier.

“It adds weight to what you’re advocating for and it builds relationships,” she explained. “For me, that’s what advocacy is about.”

“We can bring our broken immigration system into line with our history and our values”

In January’s State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated his intention to prioritise immigration reform in 2014; but House Republicans have resisted voting on a bill that has been sitting in the House for several months.

House Democrats launched a discharge petition on Wednesday in an attempt to trigger a floor vote on HR 15 that, if passed, would bolster border security and provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The President admonished GOP representatives for dragging their feet in a statement praising the Democrats’ attempt to force the vote on what he called “a commonsense bill to fix our broken immigration system”.

“Republicans in the House have refused to allow meaningful immigration reform legislation to even come up for a vote,” Obama said. “That’s why, today, I applaud the efforts of Democrats in the House to give immigration reform the yes-or-no vote it deserves.”

Their efforts are almost certain to fail, however. House Speaker John Boehner indicated on Wednesday that he did not expect the petition to gather the 218 signatures it would need to force a vote, after the bill’s only three Republicans co-sponsors — Reps. Jeff Denham of California, David Valadao of California and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida — have said that they will not sign the petition.

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