The Importance of First Generation, Immigrant Students

The Importance of First Generation, Immigrant Students

A Case for Radical Cooperation

By Dr. Michael Horowitz

As our country continues to struggle without a permanent solution for U.S. immigration policy or a clear pathway for Dreamers to U.S. citizenship, an average of 1,400 DACA recipients will lose their ability each day to work legally, from now through the end 2019 and be subject to immediate deportation. The stark and heartbreaking reality of this unresolved issue constitutes not only an emergency of humanity and a threat to our socioeconomic standing in the world, but an affront to the fundamental principles that we stand for as a nation.

Closer to home, today’s immigration emergency also stands in direct opposition to TCS values. As ambassadors of global education, we see Dreamers as a vital part of the higher education landscape. To thrive in a global economy requires meaningful global engagement at the collegiate level, and each TCS college is an engine of opportunity where individuals of every background, native born and immigrant alike, can receive the education they need to rise as high as their talents will take them. The broader, global perspectives made possible with diversity in the classroom translate to transformative educational experiences. Engagement at this level systemically changes the landscape of society and creates agents of change. The favorable impact these student agents of change make in their respective communities literally has the power to change the world.

As a child of immigrants whose parents relied heavily on the American government and social service organizations to successfully settle in the U.S., I also recognize that immigration policy is not just legislation. It can be the literal difference between a well-lived life, spent deeply connected to a community – and trauma or even death for those unable to seek higher ground from their impoverished or war torn native countries.

Taking a step back to look beyond our own personal views of immigration policy – what exactly is at stake for the American people? Everything. Immigrants are vital drivers of our country’s advancement and relative strength in the world. Through education-fueled opportunities to serve their communities and lift up their families, they rise to esteemed members of society as psychologists, social impact attorneys, teachers, and healthcare providers. Without first generation immigrant students, our communities stand to lose an entire league of highly qualified, passionate professionals benefitting our neighbors and our economy. Despite their namesake, these hopeful immigrants are not “dreamers” – but doers, and irreplaceable threads in the fabric of our society that persist in chasing the American dream and U.S. citizenship just as each of our ancestors did before us.

A mass exodus of Dreamers would wreak financial havoc on the U.S. As a country, we would forfeit an estimated $460 billion in GDP over the next ten years, owing to an untold number of small immigrant business closures and income taxes. An additional $3.4 billion in unnecessary turnover costs would be borne by U.S. employers, and domestic social service programs would suffer with a $24.6 billion reduction in Medicare and Social Security contributions over a 10-year period. Growing unemployment would ensue among American citizens that work for the 6% of all DACA recipient owned businesses, and sharp spikes in car loan defaults and mortgage foreclosures would result, based on nearly 65% of DACA recipients that have purchased a vehicle, and more than 10% that have purchased their first home.

The psychological losses we stand to sustain as a society may well exceed our financial losses. As a nation bearing witness to widespread deportation, we’ll be more suspicious and insecure without a clear sense of collective belonging to a nation. Ethnic fighting and hostility will increase, as will the companion destruction of the family unit as chain migration is halted and family reunions are prevented. On the heels of the deconstructed family unit, the economic value of immigration to migrants will be diminished, as will immigrant mental health, academic performance, and economic output.

America was not built on an ethnicity or a religion, but on the fundamental idea of human possibility. In the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem etched on a tablet within the pedestal that the Statue of Liberty National Monument stands on – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” For hundreds of thousands of people, the American dream is still palpable and our shores still hold that same promise. However, the capacity for our legislative impasse to negatively impact that possibility is profound, potentially eroding the very foundation of our country and the American dream.

In light of the looming threat of deportation that Dreamers face, I recently ventured to Capitol Hill as part of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Representing TCS Education System colleges, I advocated with the Alliance for Dreamers, calling for draft legislation to protect them. While the practical impact of the Alliance visit to DC has yet to be seen, our presence and participation in this public discourse – and that of advocates across dozens of other industries, continue to be vital to progress.

So what can you do? Only by seeking legislative solutions that serve every U.S. citizen can we hope to enable current and future generations to realize the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Passivity serves no one, and silence does not make issues disappear. From a psychological perspective, standing by idly in the presence of perceived injustices can not only be damaging to the victims and those witnessing injustices, but also tear entire societies apart. It is always the collective energy and voices of those who leverage Radical Cooperation that turn the tide over time, by voicing their discontent and directly engaging with the opposing side.

For the future economic and social health of our entire society, it is critical that we support an education framework that promotes the success of every one of our residents – including non-traditional and first generation students. Be part of the dialogue by identifying your elected officials, voicing your opinion on the matter of immigration, and exercising your right as a member of a nation built on the foundation of human possibility. In Radical Cooperation, I stand with each of you.