Janet Napolitano, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, has been nominated for the role of the next president of the University of California system. As a proud undocumented UC Berkeley alumnus, I am appalled by the decision and am strongly against the appointment of Napolitano as the next president of the UC system.
First and foremost, Napolitano was an architect of the misnamed “Secure Communities,” or S-COMM program, a federal program that unfairly ropes local police and sheriffs into acting as deportation agents. Even though Napolitano claimed that the program focuses on deporting people with serious convictions, nothing could be further from the truth. Since the inception of the program, about 70 percent of the individuals deported in California under the program either had no criminal record or had been found to have committed only minor crimes, such as jaywalking. Even survivors of domestic violence who called the police for help have faced deportation.
The anti-immigrant S-COMM program and similar initiatives under Napolitano are a big reason that an estimated 1.5 million undocumented immigrants have been deported from the United States. In other words, this administration has deported more immigrants than any other in history. S-COMM has torn apart families throughout the country and has further alienated immigrant communities from local law enforcement agencies.
In 2010, my family’s home was burglarized. The door was broken into pieces, the windows were completely shattered and our valuable belongings were gone. My whole family was terrified. My immediate reaction was to call the police, but my mother stopped me: “Ju, do not call the police,” she begged. “What if you get deported?” The fear of deportation was real. On that day, we decided not to call the police — because of the anti-immigrant policies that Janet Napolitano championed.
Just like in my immigration story, many other undocumented immigrants live in a constant fear of deportation. In 2009, ICE agents arrested Jesus Gutierrez, a worker at the UC Berkeley Clark Kerr Campus dining commons and a union activist in AFSCME Local 3299. This is one of many stories that show how UC students and employees are directly affected by the S-COMM program.
Currently, there are approximately 2.6 million undocumented immigrants living in the state of California. In the UC system, there are hundreds of undocumented students across the 10 UC campuses. In fact, one in six of all California children have at least one undocumented immigrant parent.
UC Regent Sherry Lansing, who headed the search committee, said in an official statement that “Janet Napolitano has been an ardent advocate for the federal Dream Act and the architect of a policy that protects from deportation young undocumented immigrants who are pursuing a college education.” The statement is not only inaccurate but also offensive to undocumented immigrants who actually fought against Napolitano’s very own anti-immigrant programs. In fact, the historic announcement of Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals would not have been possible without the courageous DREAMers and undocumented youth across the country who stood up and shared their stories, held events and rallies, contacted elected officials and led hunger strikes and civil disobedience actions despite risking deportation. With that being said, young undocumented leaders protected themselves from deportation while pursuing higher education.
The secretive process of appointing Napolitano is also an indication of the failure of UC Regents’ leadership. The selection was not transparent, and there was almost no public input. Clearly, the selection was not in the best interest of UC students but rather in the interest of corporations.
The bottom line is clear: Napolitano split up millions of immigrant families. If I had called the police back when our home was robbed, my family could have been deported. I will always remember the fear we felt. I will always remember the pain of losing friends and neighbors because of deportation. My sincere hope is that the regents will also remember Napolitano’s troubled record and the pain she has caused for millions for Californians.
Ju Hong is a UC Berkeley alumnus.