Protecting the Dreams of Immigrant Students - Higher Education
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Protecting the Dreams of Immigrant Students

by Marvin Krislov

June is Immigration Heritage Month. It’s a time to celebrate American diversity, to celebrate the stories of those — like my mother and my grandparents — who came to this country and worked hard to succeed here, and to admire the bravery and perseverance of today’s immigrants, striving to achieve the American Dream.

It’s also time to redouble our efforts to support the roughly 700,000 young people, called Dreamers, who were brought to America as children and are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It’s a program the Trump administration is trying to end.

Three federal courts have prevented the administration from stopping the program, and the Supreme Court earlier this year let those rulings stand. But Congress and the administration have been unable to reach an agreement on its a future, and a new case in Texas threatens to bring DACA back to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, student recipients are stuck in limbo — protected for now but uncertain how long that will last, and, even worse, ineligible for federal financial aid programs. State and college-based aid programs vary.

At Pace, we are, as we always have been, dedicated to providing access to the power of education for students from all backgrounds. We value immigrant students, and we provide them financial aid — including merit-based aid to Dreamers.

At a time when other countries are increasing their R&D spending and investing more and more in STEM students, many Dreamers are highly educated, ambitious young people who are interested in these fields. They inject talent and entrepreneurialism into today’s job market. They help expand our economy — on the whole, immigrants don’t take jobs away, because it’s not a zero-sum question. They keep the United States internationally competitive. And while international students earn nearly half of U.S. engineering and computer science degrees, those numbers are shrinking. We need to make these students more welcome, not less.

Beyond that, in a time when business is global, a student body composed of many cultures and nationalities helps all students learn how to operate in a global economy. This kind of exposure and understanding is a central part of education today. Even if a student graduating into the workforce this spring doesn’t leave the United States for the rest of their life, they’ll still have to deal with international customers, international vendors, or the global supply chain at some point in their careers. Immigrants help prepare fellow students for today’s workplace.

Pace was founded more than a century ago as an accounting college, to help aspiring business-minded students work their way into the middle class. Our fields of instruction have expanded — today we’re producing nurses and physicians’ assistants, app developers and cybersecurity experts, educators and lawyers, actors and writers, and, yes, still plenty of accountants — but our mission remains the same. We provide access to a quality education for ambitious young strivers, regardless of background. Pace does not ask about immigration status of prospective students or their parents, but we know that almost half of this year’s first-year students say they’re the first in their families to attend college.

A U.S. Department of Education study found that first-generation immigrant students make up 13.5 percent of domestic undergraduates in New York State, and second-generation immigrants make up another 22 percent. That means that more than a third of the state’s undergraduates are immigrant students — and that doesn’t include undocumented immigrants. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security says that more than 43,000 Dreamers have applied and been approved for DACA in New York State. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 25 percent of them were in post-secondary education, meaning that there around 11,000 Dreamers in New York’s colleges and universities.

I see what immigrant students and alumni at Pace can accomplish. I see what Dreamers at Pace can accomplish. I think of Lisdy Contreras-Giron, a Pace undergraduate who “came out” as Dreamer after President Trump announced his attention to end the program last September. “With me choosing to come out, it’s because I am proud,” she said at a campus event. “Being a Dreamer, as we are identified, is not just being a Dreamer. We are your neighbors, we are peers, we are your classmates, we are your children’s babysitters, your nurses.”

Like the best of Pace students, Lisdy is smart, striving, and ambitious. She’s a valuable addition to the Pace community, and she’s a valuable addition to this country. We need students like her, both Dreamers and immigrants, and the country, needs them, too. Let’s hope that Congress and the president can use the time afforded by the Supreme Court’s move this week to find a way forward that is inclusive, fair, and beneficial — not just for Dreamers but for the country.

Marvin Krislov is president of Pace University.

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