Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Skilled immigration reform and STEM education advocates get spotlight in inaugural address

Washington woke early Monday to begin its quadrennial ritual of watching, waiting and bearing witness to the presidential swearing-in.

Advocates for greater investment in math and science education and for changes to the nation’s visa laws for skilled immigrants got a surge of nitrogen to their engines.  [Is that unintentional bathos?  Nitrogen does not burn.  We live at the bottom of a nitrogen sea]

In his inaugural address Monday, President Obama placed both issues front and center, emphasizing their priority with their placement in one of the most high-profile speeches of his presidency.

“No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores,” said the president before a crowd estimated to be anywhere between 800,000 and a million people, with millions more watching across the country and around the world.

Then there was his reference to immigration reform, particularly that of skilled immigrants — those who acquire degrees in science and technology but are unable to stay in the United States.

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” said Obama, “until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”

Obama’s remarks in his second and final inaugural address, were, as others have mentioned, a clearly broadcast signal of his position on a range of issues, including climate change, renewable energy, and entitlement programs. But for advocates who have long called for greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math education and a growing community that wants change to the nation’s immigration laws, particularly for skilled immigrants, the president sent an even clearer signal.

But this isn’t the first time Obama has incorporated these issues into a key, national address. During his 2012 State of the Union, nearly a year ago today, the president made a similar appeal for reform to the immigration laws as they pertain to those trained in science and technology:

...let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hard-working students in this country face another challenge: the fact that they aren’t yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others came more recently, to study business and science and engineering, but as soon as they get their degree, we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else. That doesn’t make sense.

Let’s see if, this time, the hope of advocates for reform of the nation’s skilled immigration laws is met, to use the president’s old campaign slogan, with actual change.


Obama’s Empty Promises on Immigration
Immigration reform made a brief appearance in President Obama’s inauguration address, disappearing faster than the shadow of Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day. “Our journey is not complete,” Obama declared, “until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”

Much like the elusive predictor of the length of winter, the President’s promises to fix our broken borders and deeply flawed immigration system have become an annual event. The clarion call in this speech seems particularly vacuous—leaving no suggestion of what the President actually plans to do.

Many on Capitol Hill believe that the President plans to back a “comprehensive” bill—a confusing, complicated, and contentious measure that Congress has rejected before. That’s a disappointing approach that shows Obama is more interested in playing politics than solving problems.

“Comprehensive” legislation–likely to be written behind closed doors producing a massive, unwieldy bill loaded with measures for special interests–will worsen the problems it seeks to solve. A real problem-solving approach would look to unite the left and right behind the proposals we can all agree on and look for solutions that actually make the system work better.

Instead of a comprehensive bill, a problem-solving approach that treats each of the many issues in our immigration system in its own lane can offer a better solution. In this manner, reforms can move forward in multiple areas at the same time and advance toward meaningful and effective solutions. That is an approach that would turn the meaningless words in the President’s speech into real answers.


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