Washington • Eight presidents from Utah universities are urging the House to compromise on immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally.
The education leaders, including University of Utah President David Pershing, sent a joint letter to the state's four House members on Thursday asking them to help find a bipartisan solution to a broken immigration system.
"Utah cannot afford to wait to fix our immigration system," the letter reads. "Now is the time for Washington leaders to act and ensure that the U.S. can continue to compete on the global stage."
The Senate has already passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but the Republican-controlled House has rejected that effort. The House may start voting on smaller immigration bills later this fall but is currently mired in an economic debate over the federal budget and the nation's ability to borrow money to pay its debts.
Outside immigrant, business and now educational groups have tried to keep the pressure up hoping Congress would reach an immigration deal this year. The expectation is that members of Congress would be less likely to do so during an election year like 2014 or in the lead up to the next presidential race in 2016.
The university presidents' letter starts with a position that has broad bipartisan support making it easier for foreigners educated in science and engineering degrees here to gain visas.
In 2009, nearly 30 percent of students in Utah gaining a graduate or professional degree in science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM) fields were not citizens.
"These foreign-born students are not taking seats from Utah residents, or even American students," according to the letter. "We quite simply cannot find enough students for Utah or other states who are interested in our STEM programs to meet the demand of businesses in the area."
The presidents support more politically controversial proposals such as the Dream Act, which would create a fast-track to citizenship for some children of undocumented immigrants.
They also wrote: "In fact, creating a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants will have a positive effect for Utah's economy."
That citizenship issue is the major political holdup on immigration reform and a position that Utah's four House members have questioned or criticized.
Besides Pershing, the letter was signed by Utah Valley University President Matt Holland, Westminster College President Brian Levin-Stankevich, Utah State University President Stan Albrecht, Weber State University President Charles Wight, Southern Utah University President Rich Kendell, Dixie State University President Stephen Nadauld and Snow College President Scott Wyatt.