Harvard University President Lawrence Paco has called for immigration reform in the United States, and expressed particularly strong support for policies that encourage international students and academic exchange in a speech last week before a meeting of American higher education leaders in Washington, DC.
Returning to a topic that was a signature of his presidency — and reflecting on his life experiences — Paco said immigration and education made his career possible and raised concerns about proposed restrictions on immigration.
“Given my personal background, I have found the past 10 years or so of paralysis in the Capitol over immigration reform deeply disturbing and frustrating,” Paco said during Atwell’s keynote address at this year’s meeting of the American Council on Education, where he was also honored with a Lifetime Award. Achievement awarded by the organization, given my professional background.
“Efforts to restrict immigration have a profound impact on the ability of each of our institutions to carry out their mission,” he said.
“We limit immigration at our peril. Why? Because immigration advances our national interest. Because immigration defines our national identity.”
Paco, the son of refugees from Eastern Europe, has been praised for his actions on immigration during his presidency. He successfully fought to secure admission for a Harvard student from Lebanon who was initially accepted but was sent home without being able to enter the United States.
He also led an effort during the COVID crisis to block guidance from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would have required international students to leave the country if their college or university switched to online instruction. After a lawsuit was filed against Harvard and MIT, the government rescinded the directive, and an estimated one million international students avoided being forced to return to their home countries amid a global pandemic.
Paco said a more effective approach to immigration policy is vital to the competitiveness of the United States.
“America thrives when the best team in the world joins us to pursue research that fuels discovery and innovation,” he told an audience of more than 600 people. “International students challenge our most talented local students in the classroom, and these international students add another dimension of diversity to our campus. They often seek to build families and careers in the United States upon graduation, but—even if they leave this country—some of our values align with them. , and their relationships with their classmates continue.”
“Unfortunately, our long-term supremacy as a major destination is not guaranteed,” he said.
Our competitors aspire to attract these same students as governments offer more favorable pathways to permanent residence and financial incentives to their senior faculty, students and staff.
So, immigration is really in the national interest. Higher education helps serve this national interest by attracting and educating students from all over the world. And these same students make our campus more exciting and vibrant in countless ways.”
The Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes college and university presidents and university presidents who have dedicated their careers to upholding the value of higher education and the good it provides to our students and society.
“There is no better advocate for his students, the institutions he has served, or for American higher education than Larry Paco,” said Council President Ted Mitchell. “Larry’s own life story exemplifies the unparalleled power of higher education to transform lives, institutions, and communities.”
Concluding the speech, Paco urged greater government support for community colleges and institutions that serve minorities, calling those who work in such institutions “heroes” who “fulfill a responsibility to those who are already here, to those who want a chance to participate in what was It’s always called the American Dream.”