MEMPHIS — Christian Brothers University (CBU) hosted an event promoting comprehensive immigration reform on July 9 in the Wilson Family Commons of the Living Learning Center on the CBU campus. Billed as part of “A National Day of Action for Immigration Reform,” the event featured several speakers who urged the government to act on this issue, including Dr. John Smarrelli, CBU President; Lacy Upchurch, President of the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation; Andre Dean, Vice President of Community Development for the Greater Memphis Chamber; and Mauricio Calvo (CBU Class of 1997), Executive Director of Latino Memphis.
Smarrelli opened the event by relating that his parents were immigrants and that “these issues were crucial then and they’re crucial now.” He spoke of the impact on higher education in Tennessee, stating that more than one third of master’s and PhD students in the STEM fields are foreign-born temporary residents on student visas. “At CBU, we are very proud of what we do in our science and technology and engineering curricula. But we are hampered by lack of immigration reform and immigration policy.” Because of caps on permanent visas, he continued, many foreign-born students graduate from American colleges and are forced to take jobs elsewhere in the world.
Upchurch, speaking for the grassroots membership of the Farm Bureau, stated that immigration reform “must include fair and workable farm labor provisions and needs to ensure an adequate supply of farm labor.” Noting that today’s consumers want locally grown food, he said that labor and immigration reform would help assure that our food supply is produced on a local level. The problem reaches far beyond the concerns of the agricultural community, he stated. “Fixing the immigration system is critical for economic growth. Study after study shows that immigration reform is an economic driver and would boost growth.”
“We Americans pride ourselves on being global thinkers,” Dean said in his remarks. “We aspire to being part of a global economy. It’s time to back up that thinking with a modern immigration system that can attract and keep in the United States the world’s top students, innovators, entrepreneurs, and job creators.” He noted that, due to the retirement of millions of baby-boomers, American companies are beginning to face a shortfall in trained and qualified workers on all levels of the employment spectrum. Immigration reform “would provide a bigger talent pool at a time when we need it,” he said.
Calvo pointed out that “We are a nation of immigrants, and we need to foster that.” As a graduate of CBU, he also referred to the Lasallian tradition and to the tradition of all faiths. “People of all faiths realize that this is the right thing to do,” he stated. Like Upchurch, he also called for action from Congress and urged them to “stop kicking the ball from one side to the other” while families are suffering and business are hurt. “We are smart enough to come up with a solution where we find compromise,” he said.
The event was part of a national collaboration between the Partnership for a New American Economy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Farm Bureau Federation, Business Roundtable, AmericanHort, National Association of Manufacturers, and Western Growers to host a day of action to deliver a message to Congress that immigration reform is an economic imperative this year, with a national press conference in Washington, DC and events in 40 key districts across the country.