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Florida university presidents push for immigration reform

Saying the need for comprehensive immigration reform is as much about economics as it is fairness, four Florida higher education leaders are joining forces with a national organization lobbying for change.

Florida State University President Eric Barron said “now is the time to act” on the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, calling it a bipartisan solution. He said allowing foreign students who come to the United States for college to remain in the country to live and work will create a stronger workforce.

“We are truly a nation of immigrants where we know that education has driven the economic success of this nation,” Barron said.

Foreign graduates who stay and work in the U.S. create 2.5 new jobs for American workers on average, University of South Florida PresidentJudy Genshaft said. She said there aren’t enough U.S. born students to keep up with demands in science, technology, math and engineering fields.

“Really it is very important for us to work closely and to support the visas for STEM graduates,” Genshaft said.

She and Barron joined Miami-Dade College President Eduardo Padron and University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala on a conference call today. The four leaders announced they were joining forces with the Partnership for a New American Economy, a national group of business and community leaders who are pushing for immigration reform.

Foreign students who study in the U.S. aren’t their only concern. They also want lawmakers to remove barriers that now exist for children of immigrants who are born and raised in Florida.

“We do not want to abandon the people that are already here,” Shalala said. The presidents said they are concerned bright students educated in Florida are forced to fees as if they are foreign students once they attend college, only because of who their parents are.

The Dream Act proposal is not a comprehensive enough solution, Shalala said. She said students need a clear pathway to know they can study and work in the U.S. legally.

“I think we get one shot at this,” she said. “That this is the year of comprehensive reform for our immigration system.”