Immigration reform causes campus conversation

A renewed bipartisan movement to reform U.S. immigration law appeared recently in the Senate and White House, as President Obama has moved to make immigration reform a top priority for his second term. Reform legislation could be passed as early as 2013, according to David Crockett, associate professor of political science.

“All the evidence suggests that immigration has a net positive effect [on the United States],” said Dennis Ahlburg, president of Trinity University. “It is a real problem for our economy that we exclude talented people.”

And while an economy that is underperforming due to bad immigration policy affects everyone, few, if any, on campus have more at stake with regards to these immigration reform efforts than current international students, who face challenges unlike that of non-international students.

“I had to get a medical exam,” said Outlwile Matome, a first year from Botswana. “Then I had to go for a visa interview at the U.S. Consulate.”

According to Eric Maloof, director of international admission, international students comprise around 10 percent of the student population and are ineligible for any form of financial aid – including loans – from the federal government.

As a result, Maloof says that it is three to four times harder for an international student to get in to the university, because all financial aid given to international students is institutional aid. Few institutions have the aid to admit large amounts of international students.

Problems also arise for international students after attending Trinity because they only have a year after graduation to find work and a residency sponsorship. According to Matome, this is a restriction which seriously impedes their ability to earn an income sufficient to make a university education a worthy investment.

“I think I have a year after graduation to stay and work,” Matome said.  “If I don’t get a permanent position [by then], I may have to leave.”

Many people, including Ahlburg and Maloof, take exception to this policy.

“Essentially, when you finish your studies, you have to leave. Or, if you go to grad school, then you have to leave after that,” Ahlburg said. “People that are trying to get immigration reform want for the people that choose to stay to be able to do so.”

According to Maloof, an international student typically must find employment with a company willing to sponsor their residency after graduation, or they risk deportation.

“We do have a lot of [international students] that do stay, and they’ve managed to find employment with companies that are willing to sponsor them,” Maloof said. “Obviously some fields are more willing to do that than others, and some companies are more willing to do that than others.”

Ahlburg is not alone in his support for immigration reform; in fact, students and faculty at Trinity support efforts for immigration reform, as well as most of the nation.

“I have no problem with immigration reform,” Crockett said.

Crockett also indicated that new legislation is likely to come in 2013, although he remained unspecific about the scope of the hypothetical legislation. This analysis would seem to indicate that partisan politics are unlikely to prevent reform from passing through Congress, which is good news for a nation gridlocked by politics.

According to Crockett, the high likelihood of timely legislation being passed is due at least in part to the nature of a two-term presidency, as well as  the recent reemergence of immigration as a hot-button topic in American politics.

Studies have shown that a majority of immigrants agree that the current immigration system needs reform. In fact, the public has been widely in favor of immigration reform for much longer than this most recent push. A 2010 CBS News/New York Times poll found that 49 percent of Americans believe that American immigration policies need to be completely rebuilt, and another 41 percent believe that significant changes must be made to existing policies.

According to Crockett, a route to citizenship is likely to be a key component of any reform bill, a path which would allow undocumented residents to eventually earn their residency and citizenship. This would most likely be a very difficult provision for lawmakers to include in the bill, as one recent CBS News poll showed that only 51 percent of Americans support a set method to achieve citizenship; the provision’s margin of support is very slim.

Obama has been very vocal about this aspect of immigration reform in particular, having mentioned it on several occasions over the years, and has put this issue on the top of his second-term agenda. In a late January speech on immigration reform.  Obama made a “call for action” to members of both chambers of Congress, as well as to the American people.

“I’m here today because the time has come for common- sense, comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama said. “I’m here because most Americans agree that it’s time to fix the system that’s been broken for way too long.”