Padilla Holds Hearing to Examine Impact Immigration Policies Have on Access to Higher Education and Economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, convened a hearing entitled “Strengthening our Workforce and Economy through Higher Education and Immigration.”

The hearing, which took place on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, explored the challenges that undocumented students and international students face in seeking higher education and obtaining jobs in the United States. The hearing prompted Senators to consider reforms to ensure our immigration system enables all students to seek higher education, attracts international students to attend American colleges and universities, and grows and strengthens our workforce and economy.

During the hearing, Senators heard from Dr. Dalia Larios, Resident Doctor at the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program and a DACA recipient; Bernard “Bernie” Burrola, Vice President for International, Community, and Economic Engagement at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities; and Mia Love, National Outreach Director at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University.

“Immigration and education have been key elements of America’s competitive edge, but we are losing our advantage by failing to update our immigration laws,” said Senator Padilla. “We’re leaving behind hundreds of thousands of immigrant students—both documented and undocumented—who are already home in America, yet can’t pursue the same opportunities as their peers who have citizenship. Our economy needs the talents and passion of immigrant youth and international students. That’s why immigration reform in higher education is a bipartisan issue, and a top priority for America’s economic recovery. And I remain committed to finding a path forward and taking action for immigrant students.”

“Without question, DACA has been life-changing for hundreds of thousands of young people who have qualified for its protections – but the past ten years have made painfully clear how tenuous the policy really is,” said FWD.us President Todd Schulte. “Today’s hearing shined an important light on the barriers that DACA students continue to face when pursuing a higher education in the United States and made it even more clear why Congress must take action. Only a pathway to citizenship can provide the certainty that Dreamers’ lives won’t be turned upside down.”

Padilla opened the hearing by acknowledging the 10-year anniversary of DACA and spoke to the need to expand the program and finally codify permanent protections for young immigrants. He also recognized the need to attract and retain international students to meet our growing STEM workforce demands and reiterated the need for immigration reform to make it easier, not harder for students to stay and work in America.

Padilla then began his questioning by asking Dr. Larios what the 10th anniversary of DACA means to her and she spoke to how the program impacted her life and her access to higher education. Dr. Larios also spoke about the impacts that her patients would face if she lost her ability to live and work legally in the United States. She also noted the barriers undocumented students graduating from high school this year face in seeking higher education and the restrictions on their daily lives, from not being able to afford college or get a driver’s license to the mental health impacts that living as a Dreamer has on those students.

Padilla also questioned Mr. Burrola about why international students are choosing to study in countries other than the United States. In response, Mr. Burrola broke down what international students look at when applying to university programs outside of their home country and also spoke to why it is difficult for international student graduates to simply stay and work in the U.S. after completing their studies. During his testimony, he also outlined how colleges and universities are being negatively impacted by restrictive immigration policies and the consequences of decreasing access to in-state tuition and financial aid for undocumented students. In concluding his testimony, Mr. Burrola also spoke to the benefits international students bring to domestic students by studying in the United States.

Before closing the hearing, Padilla spoke about the importance of immigrants—and immigrant students —to our country, its history, and our economy. He also made the case for welcoming immigrant students, making it easier for undocumented and international students alike to access higher education, and urged Congress to act to make that a reality.

Key Opening Remarks Excerpts:

  • Tomorrow marks the ten-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. Now, DACA has helped hundreds of thousands of young immigrants pursue their dreams, their American dreams, while contributing to their communities, and strengthening our economy. But from day one, DACA was never intended as a permanent solution. And it has left hundreds of thousands of young people and their families in limbo. We urgently need to expand DACA and codify permanent protections, for Dreamers, into federal law.
  • In order to maintain a healthy and competitive workforce, we must both foster the talent of young Americans and do more to attract and retain the best and brightest minds from around the world. And that begins with addressing immigration policy for college and university students. The United States has long been a global leader in higher education. Students around the world dream of coming to United States to pursue advanced degrees.
  • Potential international students are increasingly questioning whether it is worth it to come and study in the United States if there is no path for them to stay and to work after graduation. Meanwhile, other countries—who compete with us for economic and political leadership—are making it more attractive for international students to come to their universities and stay after graduation.
  • Immigration and education have been key elements of America’s competitive edge, and we are now losing our edge by failing to update our immigration laws. We’re also leaving behind hundreds of thousands of immigrant students—both documented and undocumented—who are already home in the United States, yet can’t pursue the same opportunities as their peers who are citizens.
  • Congress must pass a legislative solution for Dreamers, so more students can earn their degrees and join our workforce. Our economy needs the talents and passion of immigrant youth. That’s why immigration reform in higher education is a bipartisan issue, and a top priority for America’s business community. I am committed to finding a path forward.

WATCH: View Video of Padilla’s Opening RemarksDownload Video of Padilla’s Opening Remarks

WATCH: View Video of Padilla’s Questioning Round 1 / Download Video of Padilla’s Questioning Round 1

WATCH: View Video of Padilla’s Questioning Round 2 / Download Video of Padilla’s Questioning Round 2

WATCH: View Video of Padilla’s Questioning Round 3 Download Video of Padilla’s Questioning Round 3

WATCH: View Video of Padilla’s Final Question and Closing RemarksDownload Video of Padilla’s Final Question and Closing Remarks

Senator Padilla is a strong advocate and leader for immigration reform. As Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Padilla has now led four hearings to highlight the urgency of taking action to fix our outdated and broken immigration system. Padilla is an original cosponsor of the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, legislation to overhaul the American immigration system, restore fairness and humanity to the system, strengthen families, boost our economy, and open a pathway to citizenship for millions.

Additional information on the hearing is available here.

Full transcript of Padilla’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:

Good afternoon, everybody. I call to order this hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety.

I want to thank you all for joining us this afternoon and we expect in a few minutes that we’ll be joined by Ranking Member Senator Cornyn, and I want to thank him and his team once again, his staff for working in close partnership with my office to make this hearing possible.

As you’ve seen on our agenda, the theme of this hearing is strengthening our workforce and economy through higher education and immigration.

And we will be discussing specifically the impact of immigration and higher education on America’s workforce and our economy.

And I’d like to emphasize that the hearing couldn’t come at a more timely moment.

Tomorrow marks the ten-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA.

Now, DACA has helped hundreds of thousands of young immigrants pursue their dreams, their American dreams, while contributing to their communities, and strengthening our economy.

But from day one, DACA was never intended as a permanent solution. And it has left hundreds of thousands of young people and their families in limbo. We urgently need to expand DACA and codify permanent protections, for Dreamers, into federal law.

As families across America know all too well, we’re also facing historic levels of inflation.

As families are feeling the impact of higher prices, at the gas pump, at the grocery store, rising cost for rent and medical care. I can’t help but listen to business leaders and economists that agree that a significant contributor to inflation is America’s labor shortage.

We simply don’t have the workforce needed to meet the demands of our growing economy.

And that demand will continue to grow in the coming decade, especially in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

In order to maintain a healthy and competitive workforce, we must both foster the talent of young Americans and do more to attract and retain the best and brightest minds from around the world.

And that begins with addressing immigration policy for college and university students.

The United States has long been a global leader in higher education.

Students around the world dream of coming to United States to pursue advanced degrees.

Many hope not just to find work here, but to start their own companies following graduation.

The reality is that though, too many are turned away from that dream by restrictive immigration policies that limit their time and options in the United States.

For instance, under current law, international students who want to secure a student visa must prove that they have no intention of staying in the United States after they graduate. 

That policy needlessly turns away potential students who want the chance to give back by contributing to the economy in the place where they’ve earned their degrees.

It also shuts out refugee students—who have no home to return to.

At colleges and universities across our country, enrollment of international students is falling.

Potential international students are increasingly questioning whether it is worth it to come and study in the United States if there is no path for them to stay and to work after graduation.

Meanwhile, other countries—who compete with us for economic and political leadership—are making it more attractive for international students to come to their universities and stay after graduation.

They’re more than eager to recruit the students who are no longer coming to the United States.

And why wouldn’t they be?

We’ve spent a lot of time this Congress talking about U.S. competition policy.

Immigration and education have been key elements of America’s competitive edge, and we are now losing our edge by failing to update our immigration laws.

We’re also leaving behind hundreds of thousands of immigrant students—both documented and undocumented—who are already home in the United States, yet can’t pursue the same opportunities as their peers who are citizens.

Again, tomorrow is ten-year anniversary of DACA, a vital program that has enabled many of these young people to study, to work, and to make their lives here in the United States.

People like Dr. Dalia Larios, who will be joining us today as a witness.

Now, DACA enabled her to achieve her dream of attending medical school, and today, she cares for cancer patients as a resident in the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program.

But she and hundreds of thousands of other DACA recipients still face roadblocks and uncertainty based on their immigration status.

They live in constant fear of DACA ending.

And because of Congressional inaction and the numerous legal challenges to DACA, the majority of today’s undocumented high school graduates can’t even benefit from DACA’s protections.

That means no authorization to hold a job or chance to get a driver’s license.

It means potentially being shut out of college, or being ineligible for financial aid.

When promising students like Dr. Larios are pushed into the shadows, we all lose.

Congress must pass a legislative solution for Dreamers, so more students can earn their degrees and join our workforce.

Our economy needs the talents and passion of immigrant youth.

That’s why immigration reform in higher education is a bipartisan issue, and a top priority for America’s business community.

I am committed to finding a path forward.

And I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses and taking action for immigrant students.

And now I’d like to acknowledge and turn to Ranking Member Senator Cornyn for his opening remarks.

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