Six protesters were arrested Thursday after disrupting the appointment of incoming UC president Janet Napolitano and refusing to disperse pursuant to police orders at a UC Board Regents meeting at UCSF Mission Bay.
After a public comment session in which many spoke against Napolitano’s appointment, the regents approved Napolitano’s salary package in a quick vote.
As the board barreled toward full approval, many in the section cordoned off for the public took action.
Chants of “Undocumented is not a crime” and “Don’t deport my education” erupted from the crowd, referencing Napolitano’s recent position as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.
“We were going to do this because we really believe that Janet Napolitano should not be the UC president, so we were willing to go to jail for it,” said Bruno Rosales Huizar, a UCLA student.
Shortly afterward, two protesters charged toward the regents, prompting police to declare the assembly unlawful. After five minutes of warning, four protesters remained and were arrested. Six were arrested in total, but all were released with citations.
More than 40 protesters turned out on Thursday to protest the appointment of Napolitano. Some demonstrated outside the meeting while others shared concerns at the meeting’s public comment session, indicating Napolitano’s history of deportation as homeland security secretary.
Speakers critical of Napolitano described their own experiences as undocumented students under the federal program Secure Communities, which allowed local governments to turn in undocumented immigrants to federal immigration authorities.
Huizar shared how his father was deported on his way to work at a construction site, severely affecting his family’s financial circumstances and his opportunities to pursue higher education.
“I had to worry about finding food for every meal,” Huizar said. “I couldn’t prioritize school anymore. My dream had been shattered. How are you going to tell a parent they don’t have the right to see their child?”
After the arrests, the meeting reconvened with discussion of Napolitano’s appointment. While some regents expressed support for Napolitano, student regent Cinthia Flores voted against her appointment, citing many of the same reasons voiced by protesters.
“I cannot and I will not deny the pain and experiences of countless students and families who have been negatively impacted by Secure Communities,” she said. “I know that their fear is real.”
But Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom defended Napolitano’s record on immigration, saying the responsibility for implementing Secure Communities was widely spread, with many decisions on enforcement falling to local governments instead of just the Department of Homeland Security.
“I just want to apply a broader level of responsibility that we all shared for the app of Secure Communities,” Newsom said, referencing his own history as mayor of San Francisco. “The application as it was processed created a lot of legitimate controversy that was rightly addressed, city by city and across this country.”
Regent Bonnie Reiss, who also sat on the selection committee, affirmed that Napolitano would address concerns of protesters who were fearful because of her prior experience. Reiss said Napolitano was eager to know the “real concerns among the student body” and that she sat with many and assured them she hears their voice.
Napolitano also addressed protesters’ criticism at a press conference following her appointment.
“I would say to these students, documented or undocumented, we are here for the business of education, and I will be an advocate of that in Sacramento and in D.C.,” she said.
Ju Hong, an undocumented UC Berkeley alumnus, was among those who demonstrated at the meeting. He said he will continue protesting Napolitano’s appointment as UC president despite the board’s decision Thursday.
“I know that undocumented immigrant communities are disappointed, and I know that this is just the beginning,” he said.
Contact Sophie Mattson and Andrea Guzman at [email protected]