Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

U.S. not alone in the hunt for real immigration reform

As lawmakers struggle with the issue of immigration — both legal and illegal — panelists at the University of Denver are hearing that the issue isn’t one that troubles just the United States.

Immigration policy is a global issue, speakers told DU Strategic Issues Program panelists on May 14. It affects world finances, it affects economies, and it’s not about to go away.

And, said professor and international law expert Ved Nanda, no one has gotten it right so far. Not Europe, famous for its multicultural cities, not Asian countries, not even isolated Australia. All countries are struggling with the issue, and immigration will only reach higher and higher levels, Nanda said.

Nanda, the eponymous founding director of DU’s Ved Nanda Center for the Study of International and Comparative Law, said there are an estimated 200 million immigrants worldwide, and that number will jump by at least 500 million in the next 25 years as refugees from environmental conditions spill out across the globe. Low-lying countries could be flooded by rising sea levels and millions could be forced off their land by drought.

A solution must be reached, he said. So far, attempts like those in Europe to secure all borders have failed.

Interestingly, he said, the United States is seen as more welcoming to immigrants than Europe.

In Europe, dwindling economies due to shrinking native populations have made countries dependent on immigration to add population. Still, Europeans are resistant to immigration due to the fear of losing their cultural identity.

“This country [the U.S.] is seen as much more open than European countries,” Nanda told the panel. “They are much more paranoid.”

And as the U.S. tries to tighten its immigration laws, the country risks losing the very entrepreneurial spirit and creative thinkers that will grow the American economy, said Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association.

Heesen said venture capitalists — individuals and corporations who pour start-up money into new technologies that yield more jobs — see the U.S. is doing immigration wrong. The country allows foreign nationals to earn advanced degrees and invent new technologies here then forces them to leave the country. The fact is, he said, the quality of life in other countries is rising and entrepreneurs are going home to find satisfying lives. They then create jobs by basing new operations in their home countries. They don’t have to live in the United States, and if the U.S. pushes them out, they probably won’t return, he said.

“Immigrants, by their very nature, are risk takers, which is exactly what a venture capitalist is looking for,” he said.

The U.S. should work to attract educated, entrepreneurial developers that will stay in the country, he said.

“Every higher education diploma should come with a green card,” he said. “You can’t have venture capital without the entrepreneur.”

The Strategic Issues Program panel will meet May 28 and feature presentations by Erin Brouse, Canadian immigration consul; and Phil Alterman and Brad Hendrick of the firm Stern, Elkind, Curray & Alterman. The nonpartisan SIP panel is made up of scholars and business, social and political experts who expect to hear from all sides of the immigration issue this spring, then craft a framework for immigration reform that will be presented in early December.

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