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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Immigration reform efforts in danger of being ignored

Hundreds of marchers gathered in downtown Tampa this week to make certain immigration reform isn’t shoved into oblivion by the raging debates in Washington over government shutdowns and health care.

We hope they succeed, and that Congress can overcome its paralysis long enough to consider bills that give a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

The case for reform was bolstered recently by Florida’s college presidents, who signed a joint statement urging Congress to act before the end of the year.

They worry about the “brain drain” that is occurring as foreign students earn degrees from Florida universities in science, technology, engineering and math — known collectively as the STEM fields — and then take that knowledge to competing companies in other countries because of the United States’ restrictive immigration policies.

“Half of Ph.D. students and master’s students in the STEM fields in our research universities are students who come from other countries,” University of Miami President Donna Shalala told reporters recently. “Many of them would like to stay, and we need immigration reform to give them that opportunity and to capture the talent that we’re educating.”

More than 60 percent of Florida’s students earning doctorates in engineering were non-citizens, according to Shalala, and 53 percent of students earning master’s or doctoral degrees in STEM fields are non-citizens.

The college presidents pointed to studies that show foreign-born graduates who earn degrees from graduate programs create jobs, and that immigrant-owned businesses in Florida generate about $13.3 billion in state income annually.

The 13-year path to earned citizenship outlined in the Senate bill passed in June is tightly controlled and requires the immigrants to learn English. The bill also strengthens border security. But it’s been languishing in the House, and largely pushed aside by the tumult over the shutdown.

Democrats in the House vow to introduce a bill this year similar to the Senate bill, and there are Republican members who favor reform. But it’s far from clear whether a House vote will be taken considering the hard feelings over the shutdown.

That’s too bad because studies show reform could be good for the economy. In addition to the arguments made by the state’s college presidents, a recent study by the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary showed the Senate reforms would boost the retirement program’s reserves and extend its solvency.

There is no perfect solution to the immigration problem. But ignoring it solves nothing.

The country deserves a vote in the House on this critical issue.

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