USF's Judy Genshaft, Eckerd's Donald Eastman, New College's Donald O'Shea, and University of Miami president Donna Shalala all signed the letter and said in a conference call on Monday that more than half of the students earning master's or doctorate degrees in STEM fields from the state's research intensive universities are non-citizens with no clear path to stay in the country after graduation.
"They're the breadwinners of the future," Shalala said, bemoaning the fact that Florida universities are educating such students who might have to leave soon after graduation through no fault of their own.
"Most of them get master's or Ph.D.s in computer science or electrical engineering, and they would like to stay in this country — mostly from China and India — and we're sending them back, competing with American companies and entrepreneurs," said Anthony James Catanese, president of the Florida Institute of Technology. He added that he's spoken about the issue with White House staffers and officials with Marco Rubio's office, and he doesn't see it as a political issue.
Of course, it might be that both Rubio and the president support a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. For Obama it has been a signature issue of his second term in office, while Rubio has lost some political capital with his conservative base by being such a prominent advocate of the immigration bill that passed through the Senate in late June.
The authors of the letter wrote, "Florida cannot afford to wait to fix our immigration system. We ask you to work together to develop a comprehensive, bipartisan solution because all parts of our economy — from education to agriculture to housing to business — need it."
They conclude by citing polls that show more than 70 percent of Florida voters support the Senate comprehensive immigration legislation, while 86 percent of Floridians say it's important that our immigration system be repaired this year.
Some Republicans have said that if such legislation isn't passed this year, it could be several more years before Congress addresses the issue again, based on upcoming elections in 2014 and 2016.