Campus support for undocumented students may increase

UC Berkeley may soon take on a new look in an attempt to be more supportive of undocumented students.

Nineteen recommendations released Monday by a campus task force on undocumented student life range from the placing of signs or symbols to identify people willing to help undocumented students to the establishment of an advising position dedicated to undocumented student welfare.

The recommendations — submitted to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau in May — have been approved for implementation, according to campus Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri, who heads the Task Force on Undocumented Members of the On-Campus Community.

Among the recommendations is the creation of a part-time staff position focused specifically on helping undocumented students without putting those students at risk by revealing their status to a university employee.

“Anyone appointed to this position would be extremely sensitive to the information,” Basri said. “The hope would be to decrease the risk to undocumented students, not increase it.”

Jessica Lopez, an undocumented fourth-year student at UC Berkeley, said that she currently has fears of revealing her status to administrative staff at the university.

“Even at Berkeley, there is still a stigma attached to being an illegal immigrant, that it’s a crime for me to be here,” she said.

Lopez said that the creation of such a position would go a long way toward quelling her fears.

The campus’ initiative to assist undocumented students is the only of its kind in the UC system, said UC spokesperson Leslie Sepuka.

The report also recommends that the campus continue its current policing practice of not prioritizing immigration enforcement, maintaining that immigration is a federal issue. The report emphasizes that these policies should be made clear to undocumented students, as fear of law enforcement often keeps undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes.

For the 2008-09 academic year, around 75 UC Berkeley students were undocumented — a very small portion of the total student population of approximately 35,000 — according to that year’s Annual Report on AB 540 Tuition Exemptions.

But despite the relatively small number of benefiting students, Basri said the campus Division of Equity and Inclusion’s commitment to equal rights for all students supersedes any costs or the relatively localized impact of the report’s recommendations.

“It’s not a matter of cost, but the carrying out of a mission,” Basri said.

Although the chancellor has approved the “grab bag” of recommendations, Basri said that the specific logistics of implementation and the total cost of implementation have yet to be determined.

The campus-level initiative comes at a time of changing legal stance towards undocumented students statewide.

In July, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the first part of the California DREAM Act — which allowed undocumented students access to private financial aid — into law. The second half of the act, which would grant undocumented students access to public financial aid, currently awaits his signature.