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Dean L. Bresciani and Robert O. Kelley, Published June 19 2013

Letter: Immigration reform vital to flagship universities

As the institutional leaders of North Dakota’s research universities, we are writing to encourage your support for our U.S. senators for reform of current federal immigration law. We do so from a desire to better tap our institutional potentials to bolster the strength and prosperity of North Dakota’s growing economic capacities, particularly in terms of preparing and graduating students in science-, technology-, engineering- and math-related academic disciplines, and being responsive to North Dakota workforce needs.

Our perspective is shared by our university peers across the country. Thoughtful immigration law reform, prioritizing more flexibility in STEM-related fields, could offer particularly strategic opportunities for North Dakota. We recognize that the bill is a complicated one with many features, but we support the discretion of our congressional representatives to work toward reforms that are appropriate to our state.

As early as 2005, the U.S. Congress asked for thoughts on this problem from a group known collectively as the National Academies. That organization is made up of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide expert advice on some of the most pressing challenges facing the nation and the world. The result was what has become a nationally recognized report titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” which found that we face nothing short of an educational and economic crisis in this country in terms of the preparation and availability of people to fill the demand in STEM-related career fields. That situation has since become worse, and the bottom line is that North Dakota economic strength and diversity is being reined back by our inability to fill STEM-related careers in our state.

Beyond our borders, however, individuals with college preparation in STEM fields, and young people eager to purse that preparation in our country, want to contribute to our future. They represent the opportunity to maintain our state’s and nation’s current economic advantage and even better position for the future.

Unfortunately, current federal immigration laws often prevent them from coming to or staying in our country after graduating from our colleges and universities. Speaking for our campus communities and by extension the state we serve, that is a disappointing situation. At this strategic opportunity for our state, North Dakota’s research universities could be both drawing and educating a much larger population of individuals ready and enthusiastic about supporting economic growth and diversification – but we are constrained by current law from doing so.

In summation and as the leaders of our state’s flagship institutions, we encourage you to support our congressional leaders on this effort, and as a result unlock the full potential of North Dakota’s research universities through thoughtful reform of current federal immigration law.

Doing so will be taking advantage of higher education’s potential to catalyze the future of our state and nation in a very immediate and material manner.

Bresciani is president of North Dakota State University; Kelley is president of the University of North Dakota.