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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
David Pershing, president of the University of Utah, speaks at the grand opening of the new Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's college and university presidents again are calling on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

In a letter addressed to Utah's four members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the presidents of the University of Utah, Utah State University, Weber State University, Southern Utah University, Westminster College, Dixie State University and Snow College urge lawmakers to work toward a bipartisan compromise on immigration legislation.

"Utah cannot afford to wait to fix our immigration system," the letter states. "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."

The letter also addresses the role foreign-born students play at Utah schools, particularly in master's and Ph.D. studies and in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, collectively referred to as STEM. According to the letter, 29 percent of Ph.D. and master's students in Utah schools were temporary residents with no clear path to American citizenship and more than half of students earning a Ph.D. in engineering are not naturalized citizens.

"These foreign-born students are not taking seats from Utah residents, or even American students," the letter states. "We quite simply cannot find enough students from Utah or other states who are interested in our STEM programs to meet the demands of businesses in the area."

Last year, U. President David Pershing and USU President Stan Albrecht were among 165 university presidents from around the country urging Congress to work toward immigration reform. The letter sent last year cited a study by Partnership for a New American Economy — a coalition of business leaders and mayors — that found foreign-born inventors had contributed on 76 percent of patents issued to the top 10 patent-producing universities in the U.S.

"I join my colleagues in calling for the passage of immigration reform legislation this year. The system is long overdue for significant change,” WSU President Charles A. Wight said in a prepared statement. “We need a market-based system for visas that responds to the needs of our businesses and economy. We also need to pass the DREAM Act so that children who have grown up in America have an opportunity to become citizens and have an incentive to pursue higher education."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com, Twitter: bjaminwood