It’s time for advocacy

Published November 01 2017

I try to not be vexed by what’s in the news, but some days I just cannot help myself. The White House decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, followed by a 70-point plan for tightening immigration, was a worrying addition to an increasingly nativist tone from our government and undue harassment and detention of individuals trying to travel.

I take this personally; my father is an immigrant, as were my mother’s parents. The proposed plans discount the contributions by foreign-born residents to U.S. prosperity. In 2016, their economic impact was $2 trillion, as estimated by the National Academy of Sciences. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, predicts that deportation of DACA recipients — who tend to be better educated, with 17 percent pursuing advanced degrees — would reduce economic growth by $280 billion over 10 years. A hard line on immigration policy impacts every enterprise, including the life sciences, where nearly 60 percent of postdoctoral fellows are temporary U.S. residents. The advances that we enjoy have always been fueled by the work of individuals from around the world, and the U.S. has been a training destination for decades. It is hard to see the logic of policies that jeopardize our ability to attract the best and brightest.

Beyond economic impact is the loss of dignity. At a recent American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Student Chapters Committee meeting, members told of undergraduates whose morale and confidence have been wrecked by a menacing political atmosphere. I see this in my own lab. Apprehension has stoked fear and anger in one of my trainees, undermining his ability to concentrate and be creative.

The ASBMB takes a forceful stand in this debate, with public statements and visits to Congress by the Public Affairs Advisory Committee, or PAAC, to explain the impact of hard-line immigration and DACA policies on science. Stay abreast at the ASBMB Policy Blotter.

National policies affect all of us who care about maintaining a well-trained scientific workforce and a fertile environment for discovery. There is a need for scientists to unify voices, stand up and be heard on issues that will impact the future. Therefore, as we did in April when we marched in many cities, we must all contribute as advocates for science.

The PAAC has developed tools to teach us how to do this. They host webinars to provide us with information and training. They mobilize and teach us how to engage with our own congressional leaders via phone calls, letters and/or personal meetings, which is the most effective way to inform policy leaders about the impact of their decisions. Additionally, they monitor, research and respond to political and funding policies, and engage with legislative groups as well as federal funding agencies. I urge everyone to sign up now for the Grassroots Advocacy Network (asbmb.org/Advocacy). Get involved to sustain the future of scientific research.

And if you’re not an ASBMB member, please join. If you’re already a member, enlist a colleague. Help the society represent you — and work for you — by joining our community.

Natalie Ahn Natalie Ahn of the University of Colorado, Boulder, is president of the ASBMB.