Foreign-born college students say sweeping reforms of immigration laws would open new doors for them

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Hours after a bipartisan group of senators reached consensus on the principles of sweeping legislation to rewrite the nation's immigration laws, some foreign-born college students said the proposed changes would allow them to contribute to the United States in new ways.

"I really enjoy the American dream and this idea that capitalism and free enterprise can make the world a better place and bring global peace and just have a more sustainable distribution of the world's resources," said Esteban Benitez, a Northwood University student majoring in international business and management.

Benitez, who aspires to be president of his native Paraguay, said being in South Florida had allowed him to open Superior Party Rentals, a party planning business in Jupiter.

"If you look at some of the most successful companies in the United States right now,  they were started by immigrants. So, immigrants don't necessarily take away jobs from people. They add jobs," he said.

At Northwood University and other college campuses, stories of great ambition such as his are tempered by the realities of the nation's immigration laws.

Students on student visas -- with few exceptions -- often have to leave the United State about one year after graduation.

A sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration system and a pathway to citizenship for as many as 11 million people could potentially change that.

"It's a policy that fractures the politics in different ways and it's probably that fracturing that allows now the parties to come together on some general principles," said Dr. Tom Duncan, president of Northwood University.

About 40 percent of the students who attend Northwood, he said, were foreign-born.

"Giving people the opportunity to work, to be productive, to pay taxes, to contribute to society -- in a legal way -- is a good thing," he said.

Mahesha Jayawardana, a Sri Lanka native and hospitality major at Northwood, said she hoped to use the skills she learned in the United States to open a boutique hotel near the Indian Ocean.

"The opportunities that you get with this education I can't even explain. An American education is always regarded very highly around the world and I know I speak for a lot of my friends when I say this," she said. "[The proposed immigration reform] would actually make it easier for people who are actually willing to stay and are actually willing to pay their dues and taxes. It will make it so much easier for them."

President Barack Obama, who has said he would make immigration reform a priority of his second term in office, is expected to propose his own immigration reforms on Tuesday.

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