Note: A version of this article previously appeared in “Running the Campus” on April 30, 2017.
Immigration has been an essential part of higher education in America since long before we were a nation: John Harvard, the great benefactor of America’s first college, was born and raised in Southward, England. He emigrated to Massachusetts in 1637 and lived in the Bay State barely a year before dying in 1638 and leaving his estate to the school that eventually bore his name.
And immigration continues to contribute to higher education in vital ways today. Two of the presidents recently appointed to lead community colleges in Massachusetts are immigrants: Dr. Luis G. Pedraja, president of Quinsigamond Community College, is a Cuban immigrant who grew up in a low-income Miami neighborhood before becoming the first in his family to attend college. And Dr. Yves Salomon-Fernandez, president of Greenfield Community College, is a native of Haiti who emigrated to the United States when she was twelve, learning English and Spanish here in Massachusetts.
Nationwide, more than two million immigrants and second-generation Americans are enrolled full-time in U.S. Colleges, representing nearly 20 percent of all U.S. College students, and around 24 percent of community college students.
Colleges and universities nationwide depend on immigrant and foreign visiting students, faculty, and staff as contributors to research and teaching, to campus cultural diversity, and, increasingly, to enrollment and their local economies.
Over the past five years, an average of 84% of NECC’s students each semester are U.S. citizens. The other 16% include permanent residents (green card holders), foreign students on visas, undocumented students, and students whose status we do not know.
Approximately 93% of NECC’s employees are U.S. citizens. The other 7% includes permanent residents and others on work visas.
We are a nation of laws. Some of those laws govern immigration, and who may visit, study, work, and live in our nation.
Although the practice of controlled or closed borders around the world is relatively new—most countries only began adopting strict border controls after World War I, to manage the mass migration of people displaced by the conflict—every nation in the world now has some measure of border control and security in place, or at least declared.
Here in the U.S., the current federal administration in Washington has brought increased attention to border control and immigration issues we have been grappling with as a nation—and as educators—for decades.
And some recent actions by our national government have created significant challenges for higher education.
International Student Recruitment and Enrollment
Just over 1.2 million students from abroad studied at American colleges and universities this spring; but that number is down nearly 10% over the past two years. According to the Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact at the Institute of International Education, this is largely due to more restrictive policies on academic visas, and the perception by prospective students and their families in countries like Canada, China, Korea, and the Middle East that the United States has become an uncertain or even unfriendly environment for them.
International recruitment and enrollment has not been a significant factor for NECC in the past; but with current budget and enrollment challenges, and with our efforts to build more bridges to the home countries of our immigrant populations here in the Merrimack Valley, it has become a necessary strategic part of our future—and at this point, that future is cloudy at best.
And then there are those young people, known as the “Dreamers,” who are caught in a particularly vulnerable position right now: The children of unauthorized immigrants who either entered the United States illegally or overstayed their visas, “Dreamers” were given special protection in 2012 by the Obama administration. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program provides them with a two-year period of deferred action on deportation, eligibility for a work permit, and the ability to go to college.
However, the Trump administration has consistently sought to end the DACA program for the past two years, and has been temporarily restrained from doing so by circuit courts.
NECC has several “Dreamers” enrolled through the DACA program right now, and their status remains uncertain.
Immigration and NECC
This weekend, as immigrants and undocumented individuals across the country, including here at NECC and in the communities we serve, are concerned about possible raids and arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as part of the ongoing pressure to significantly curtail immigration to the United States, it seems important to share what I believe about immigration and higher education, and what actions the college can, and cannot, take to both protect our students and comply with the law.
I believe that:
We are a nation of immigrants.
Continued immigration is vital to our identity, our economy, our safety, and our future as a global model for democracy.
We are a nation of laws.
Some of those laws govern immigration, and who may visit, study, work, and live in our nation.
Facts are important. Yes, everyone is entitled to their feelings and to their opinions. But everyone is not entitled to their own version of facts, when facts are known.
- The rate and the overall number of unauthorized immigrants entering the U.S. are decreasing. The number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. peaked in 2007 at just over 12 million, about 4% of the population. Since then, led mostly by a significant drop in Mexican unauthorized immigration, it has declined to around 11 million, or 3.4% of the population.
- The proportion of foreign-born residents of the U.S. is unchanged. The United States is home to the largest immigrant population in the world. Yet, despite concerns expressed by some that the American immigrant population has been growing out of control, the proportion of immigrants to the overall population of the United States remained relatively unchanged over more than a century. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1870 just over 14% of U.S. residents were born in other countries. Today, that figure is slightly lower, at just over 13%.
- Immigration is stabilizing our population. In 1950, Massachusetts was the 9th largest state in the nation. Over the years, other states have grown faster than us. In 2015, there was actually a net domestic migration out of Massachusetts, and we slipped to 15th place in population size. Immigration was the only way we did not actually lose overall population. The consequences of losing population are significant, and include a smaller workforce, fewer consumers, and fewer representatives in Washington.
- Immigrants are educated: According to the Migration Policy Institute, nearly a third of foreign-born individuals living in the United States have a bachelor’s degree or higher, a rate comparable to that of native-born Americans.
- Immigrants are law-abiding: America has a long history of fear mongering when it comes to immigrants and refugees. After importing tens of thousands of Chinese workers to help build the railroads in the 1860s, America decided that Chinese immigrants were destroying our culture and stealing jobs, and passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. A decade later, German and Italian immigrants were rumored to be anarchists, and the Irish (including my ancestors) were declared terrorists (and drunkards). During the Great Depression in the 1920s and ‘30s, nearly two million Mexicans were targeted for “repatriation” and deported or scared into voluntarily emigrating—regardless of whether they held U.S. citizenship. And the list goes on…
Now, one of the big fears about immigrants seems to be crime, and accusations that those seeking asylum or citizenship are violent criminals. But a growing body of research, such as this report from the Sentencing Project, and this one from the Cato Institute, consistently shows that immigrants generally have lower rates of crime and incarceration than native-born U.S. citizens.
- Immigration improves our economy: According to a study from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, “Most economists agree that the effects of immigration on the U.S. economy are broadly positive,” and include:
- Increased wages: Immigrants often do not compete for the same jobs as native U.S. citizens, putting minimal downward pressure on wages. Rather, immigrants’ consumer needs increase the demands for goods and services, and studies find that immigration has actually raised average wages of native-born workers over the past few decades.
- Improved innovation: Immigrants account for a disproportionately high share of patent filings, science and technology graduates, and senior positions at top venture capital-funded firms. In addition, the presence of immigrants often creates opportunities for less-skilled native workers to become more specialized in their work, thereby increasing their productivity.
- Higher tax revenue: Contrary to one often expressed belief, most immigrants, including those in the country without authorization, pay significantly more in taxes over a lifetime than they consume in government services. According to a report by Pew Research, immigrants in the U.S. illegally contribute more than $12 billion annually in state and local taxes. And get this: the average estimated tax rate of unauthorized immigrants is 8 percent, while the wealthiest one percent of Americans pay just over 5 percent. And, approximately 75 percent of unauthorized immigrants contribute to social security—a benefit they are not even eligible to receive.
- Saving retirement: As we all know, the U.S. population is getting older. In 1990, there were five workers in America for every retiree. Now, there are only three. Without immigration, by 2030 that ratio will fall to only two—not enough to sustain our population of retirees.
When I consider these facts about immigrants and immigration, and recognize the importance of foreign born students, faculty, and staff as contributors to research and teaching, to campus cultural diversity, and to enrollment and the economies of the cities and towns we serve, from my perspective as president of Northern Essex Community College it is clear to me that we must do everything we can to ensure safe, broad access to higher education for immigrants on our campuses.
Therefore, it will be helpful for students, faculty, staff, and the public to know the following information:
Protection of Student Information and the Role of Campus Public Safety
Student record information is protected from unauthorized disclosure under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). According to the law, the college will not release a student’s educational records absent a student’s prior, written consent or as required under the law.
As indicated in NECC’s FERPA policy, the college may release student information designated as “directory information” without a student’s consent. Directory information is information that is generally not considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if released. If a student does not want the college to disclose directory information from their education records without their prior written consent, they can notify the college’s registrar, in writing. Student record information may also be released without a student’s consent in response to a lawfully issued court order, subpoena or in the event of a health or safety emergency. A complete list of college policies, including the Student Records Policy, is available online here.
Northern Essex Community College has an open admissions policy and does not require information about the immigration status of any of our students in order to enroll or take classes at the college.
Northern Essex public safety officers do not enforce federal immigration law. Responsibility for the enforcement of federal immigration law rests with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection, not with campus security.
If someone from a federal agency arrives on campus and requests student information, they should be directed to the President’s Office and Chief of Staff Cheryl Goodwin, firstname.lastname@example.org or 978 556-3854.
Students, faculty or staff with questions/concerns related to immigration, should contact International Student Advisor Maria Hernandez, email@example.com or (978) 655-5915; or Assistant Director of Community and International Relations Analuz Garcia, firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-738-7423.
From John Harvard to Luis Pedraja and Yves Salomon-Fernandez, across four centuries, one-hundred-and-fifteen congresses, and forty-five presidencies, immigration remains an essential part of the success of American higher education, all around the country, and right here at NECC.