Illegal and international students not the same

May 27, 2011

Dan Rodricks' recent column ("Seeing Dream Act Kids as 'our own,'" May 26) completely misses the point by comparing the children of people here illegally with international students. This is a case of comparing apples to oranges and is surprising coming from a journalist of Mr. Rodricks' experience.

Universities these days belong to the corporate sector. They are run like for-profit businesses because that is the only way they can stay competitive and survive financially. While some foreign students earn well-deserved scholarships through scholastic achievements, others are the offspring of wealthy parents from the developing world and pay their full share at American universities.

These students bring much-needed dollars and the diversity the universities crave. They become goodwill ambassadors for the American universities from which they receive their degrees. When they return home and become important political or business leaders, they donate to their alma maters in the U.S. and establish political and business liaisons with U.S. counterparts to improve trade and bring a U.S. ethos to the politics of their own countries.

When we educate a whole new generation of Chinese students we inculcate in them an appreciation for the freedoms in the U.S. and we instill in them a recognition that Chinese authoritarianism can be challenged and changed. When students from despotic regimes are able to experiment with their talents and reach their full potential in the U.S. and then take back bold new ideas, the likelihood of the status quo changing in these nations is much higher.

America educates numerous international students because that venture is profitable on more than one level. In fact America has been falling behind in this sphere after 9/11, much to the consternation of university leaders, with Australia, New Zealand and Canada taking up the slack. Among the international students we educate there are many famous and successful entrepreneurs, writers, professors and scientists who move the engines of high-tech innovations and scientific discoveries that enrich America.

This is not to say that the children of illegal aliens cannot do the same, but their biggest disadvantage is that they are illegal. We cannot make them legal through education and back-door methods. We need comprehensive immigration reform, and we need a deeper appreciation of the power of legal immigration to this country. It sets the talented and the educated free to go forth, explore and conquer the opportunities they have, without having to look over their shoulders all the time that authorities could arrest or deport them for not having the right papers.

Mr. Rodricks should advocate for legal immigration and stop pleading the case for looking the other way about illegal immigration. He wrongly believes the latter is a wise or a humanitarian thing to do. His premise harms the illegal immigrants more than anyone else.

Usha Nellore, Bel Air

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