An Auburn University professor who immigrated to the United States from India has called on U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby to take a stronger leadership role in helping to address the nation’s muddy and emotional mess with immigration.

The senior senator from Alabama should listen and heed the call, and do so sooner rather than later.

Sarit Dhar is an associate professor of physics and the Thomas and Jean Walter Chair at Auburn. He authored an op-ed published last week in the Opelika-Auburn News that quickly began trending when published online.

Dhar not only shared his personal struggle – and it was a struggle – to become a productive, law-abiding, valuable citizen in the United States, but also why the state of Alabama and institutions such as Auburn University and other research entities should care.

“I came to the United States from India in 2000, and like numerous other immigrants in Alabama, I take great pride in training the workforce and contributing to America’s economy,” Dhar said. “But the legal path I followed to citizenship has become much more challenging, and that’s hurting Alabama:

"Fewer international students are applying to our graduate science, technology, engineering and math programs.”

There continues to be more than enough documentation in media and government reports to show the painful plight of legitimate immigrants trying to become American citizens and, like Dhar and those he aspires to teach, contributors to the nation’s progress.

Professors of physics such as Dhar don’t just grow on trees.

Auburn University is and has high goals in growing as one of the nation’s leading research universities in several fields, such as aerospace, cybersecurity and other programs where physics, science and engineering all come together.

Other universities, such as the University of Alabama at Birmingham, are pioneers and trend-setters in fields such as medicine.

Immigration plays a vital role in bringing to the United States the brightest students who then often become the smartest teachers of yet other bright students in such important fields of need.

These very valuable contributors to the American economy, society and security, however, are getting caught in the dragnet of what has become a political fishing expedition more than a policy reform.

And as Dhar points out, not only does the United States face missing out on the best of the best in the global talent pool, but it is our competitors around the world who most stand to gain.

“The path I followed has become significantly more challenging and is hurting America’s ability to attract exceptional international students,” said Dhar, who earned his Ph.D at Vanderbilt University. “Instead, they are studying elsewhere and building businesses in countries that compete with the U.S.”

Shelby recently became chairman of the highly influential and powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. He already had influence as one of the nation’s most senior statesmen in the Senate, but his new appointment only elevated his status.

Alabama – and the nation – needs him to listen to constituents back home such as Dhar.

Before it’s too late.

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