Standing with Our Students

As chancellor of Rutgers University – Newark and president of Illinois Institute of Technology, we have witnessed firsthand the phenomenal contributions that DACA recipients, Dreamers, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) students make each and every day to the academic environment, the professional network, and campus culture of our nation’s universities and to the broader communities that we serve.  

As proud members of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, we understand that the urgency for Congress to protect this vulnerable population of student leaders is more pressing than ever. In conjunction with the Presidents’ Alliance, the Migration Policy Institute this week released new estimates showing that nearly 100,000 Dreamers graduate from high school annually, a significant increase from the oft-quoted and 15-year-old estimate of 65,000. In New Jersey and Illinois alone, approximately 8,000 Dreamers are expected to graduate high school in 2019. As a part of our universities’ collective mission to expand educational opportunity and enhance student outcomes, it is our goal to welcome these students to campuses and universities like ours across the country in the fall. 

Yet for many of these would-be campus leaders, this year’s class of undocumented graduates will have no opportunity to apply for critical programs such as DACA, which was halted by the federal government in 2017. While court cases have enabled those already with DACA status to renew their requirements, current statutes do not allow for any new applications, leaving countless immigrant youth without the necessary protection from deportation, despite years of good standing in high schools throughout the nation.

Currently, legislation before Congress, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, H.R. 6, would provide permanent relief from the threat of deportation for millions of Dreamers and TPS holders, allowing these hardworking individuals the stability to continue to build upon their established track records for academic success and student leadership. Passing this common-sense legislation would ensure that these individuals are able to continue in their world-changing academic pursuits: discovering life-saving research and technology, contributing to tomorrow’s workforce, and shaping the new American innovation economy.

In the 2017–2018 academic year alone, nearly 1.1 million international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed more than $39 billion to the U.S. economy, while supporting more than 455,000 jobs. Conversely, the deportation of Dreamers and TPS holders would rip families apart and drive people out of a country that has been their home for years, if not decades—all at a staggering cost to taxpayers and our economy.

Dreamers, TPS holders, and international students and their families enrich our campus communities in ways we simply cannot measure, helping to bring about a deeper cultural understanding and connectedness in a truly global and constantly changing world. Across our campus communities, we are deeply grateful that these students chose to pursue higher education opportunities with us and we are honored that some of the best and the brightest minds across the world see our nation as their home of choice. We ignore these future academic leaders at the peril of our own national and international standing, and we understand that the choice to protect their ability to study in a nation founded on the principles of individual opportunity and self-betterment is a signal that our national, regional, and local communities and neighborhoods are worth investing in and contributing to.

At Rutgers-Newark, for example, students of all backgrounds look up to Marisol Conde-Hernandez, who started forging her higher education pathway, as so many first-generation college going students do, at a two-year school, in this case Middlesex County College. After then graduating summa cum laude from our sister institution, Rutgers-New Brunswick, she pursued her dream to make a difference in the world practicing law by enrolling at Rutgers Law School-Newark. Now she is doing just that as New Jersey’s first undocumented woman to be admitted to the state’s bar. She has shared her inspiring personal journey in a documentary film series titled “American Sueño,” produced by Rutgers-Newark faculty, students, and local partners working collaboratively under the Newest Americans project (www.newestamericans.com).

The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration is advocating urgently for the passage of legislation to protect Dreamers and TPS holders, because we know how high the stakes are for our students and colleagues, as well as for our country more broadly. We have been encouraged to see members of Congress across the political spectrum applaud and support these hardworking individuals’ ability to pursue their dreams and build their lives here.

Now, Congress needs to match aspiration with action. We urge it to pass the Dream and Promise Act without delay.