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Public Affairs Programs

Virtual Event - Higher Education Pathways to Immigration: Why it Matters

Higher educations’s role in facilitating immigration pathways, developing talent, and reducing barriers to integration

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Presidents Alliance Immigration Event - Virtual Flyer_FORMATTEDx2

Friday, April 21, 2023, 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Dialogue is at the heart of the Kennedy Institute’s mission to invigorate civil discourse, inspire the next generation of leaders, and find bipartisan solutions for our nation’s challenges. As the federal government seeks to build on the strength of immigrant contributions to the country’s economy, the Kennedy Institute co-hosted an event alongside the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, the Immigration Initiative at Harvard University, and UMass Boston, discussing the evolving relationship between higher education institutions and immigration policy in the United States. This half-day event, “Higher Education Pathways to Immigration: Why it Matters” featured critical conversations illuminating higher education’s role in facilitating immigration pathways, developing talent and potential, and reducing barriers to integration and naturalization.

The first discussion, “An American Story: Higher Ed and Immigration,” featured panel event moderated by, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Chancellor, UMass-Boston; featured local and national leaders from higher education institutions across Massachusetts, including Pam Eddinger, President, Bunker Hill Community College; Javier Reyes, Incoming Chancellor, UMass-Amherst; and Esther Benjamin, CEO and Executive Director of World Education Services. The conversation focused on the possibilities and opportunity for immigrant students to access higher education in the United States.

Pam Eddinger, who emigrated to the United States as a student, said, “As immigrant students, we think of two things: We are the ‘other,’ and imaging the possibilities. It is fitting that Bunker Hill Community College’s tag line is ‘Imagine the possibilities.'”

“Students are looking for an opportunity. Yet instead of harnessing the energy that they bring; we are putting them down,” said Javier Reyes. “That is a problem in any country.”

“I am incredibly blessed to do the work I do and have the education I’ve gained,” said Esther Benjamin. “Those who lead higher education institutions know the feeling of being on campus. I am reminded every day of what my obligation is, and that is to unlock opportunity.”

On the topic of culture, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco said, “It’s a landscape that is changing. In our own country, we are struggling with easing the transition of such significant numbers of people who are a part of our American family and our culture, but do not have a paper.”

The second conversation, “Overcoming Barriers to Citizenship and Immigrant Inclusion” was moderated by Carola Suárez-Orozco, Director, Harvard Immigration Initiative, and Professor in Residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and included Mary Waters, PVK Professor of Arts and Sciences and the John L. Loeb Professor of Sociology, Harvard University; Eva Millona, Chief, Office of Citizenship, Partnership, and Engagement (OCPE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Patricia Sobalvarro, Executive Director, Agencia ALPHA; and Nancy Ramirez-Palencia, Graduate Student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The conversation discussed DACA legislation and policies needing modernization, personal stories of immigration and access to higher education, and how the United States can develop the talent and potential for immigrant students.

“A lot of those [DACA] recipients came through the border. They’ve been vetted, they paid thousand of dollars, and they are our essential workers and entrepreneurs,” said Patricia Sobalvarro. “Many of our DACA recipients are as American as baseball and apple pie.”

When discussing specific challenges for immigrant students, Mary Water said, “All Americans, including immigrants, are facing the high cost of education. It particularly affects immigrants and international students who want to come and attend college.”

When thinking about the opportunities to provide more support for immigrant students, Eva Millona said, “There is an importance of changing the narrative of inclusion. Institutions working at the state and local level can help with models of inclusion, and policies that lead to better models of inclusion.”

“It is important to have an alumni network, said Nancy Ramírez Palencia. “It is low hanging fruit to invite people back and have them form these relationships so that they can act as a guide for other students.”

The only way America makes our immigration system work is by problem-solving together. Senator Kennedy brought people together to pass the most consequential immigration reform law in modern history, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, and we were thrilled to continue that work by bringing people together for dialogue and discussion around the role higher education can play in further expanding opportunities for immigrants across the world.

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