California public college and university system officials sent a letter to Donald Trump on Tuesday asking the president-elect to support the pursuit of higher education among undocumented immigrants and to protect them from deportation despite his pledges to remove millions of undocumented immigrants from the country after taking office.
In the letter, leaders of California public university systems, including University of California President Janet Napolitano, stressed the importance of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a federal program that allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to apply for temporary work permits and live in the country legally for two years. During his campaign, Trump announced his intent to repeal the program, which has shielded nearly one million undocumented immigrants from deportation since it was instituted as an executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times on Wednesday, Napolitano — who served as the secretary of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013 — defended DACA, emphasizing the program’s focus on supporting undocumented students’ goals regarding higher education. The UC Office of the President also released a list of principles Wednesday reaffirming its dedication to defending undocumented students’ rights through instituting policies designed to prevent discrimination and requiring campus law enforcement to refrain from assisting federal authorities with deportation efforts.
“While we still do not know what policies and practices the incoming federal administration may adopt, given the many public pronouncements made during the presidential campaign and its aftermath, we felt it necessary to reaffirm that UC will act upon its deeply held conviction that all members of our community have the right to work, study, and live safely and without fear at all UC locations,” said Napolitano in the press release.
Kurt Organista, a campus professor of social welfare, said besides acting as a symbol of the rights of undocumented immigrants, the letter sent Tuesday also serves to heighten their visibility due to the broad recognition given to California’s public university systems. He added that the administration should declare UC Berkeley a sanctuary campus — a designation which would prevent UCPD from assisting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from apprehending and turning over undocumented individuals.
Some undocumented students said the establishment of a sanctuary campus might not be enough to protect those living here illegally and they would prefer to see this status expanded to fit the definition of a sanctuary state. Organista said another way to support undocumented students is through providing funding, which he said Napolitano has addressed by allocating $8 million toward undocumented students’ programs across the UC system through 2019.
“We employ them, but we don’t give them the protections they need,” said Organista.
Several undocumented students, however, have expressed concerns regarding Napolitano’s time serving as President Obama’s secretary of Homeland Security, during which she authorized the deportation of more than one million undocumented immigrants. Benyamin bin Mohd Yusof, a campus senior and ASUC senator, said he felt somewhat “apprehensive” about the language Napolitano has used in the past when referring to undocumented immigrants.
“She made it very clear that she wanted to prioritize deporting ‘criminal aliens’ … not taking into consideration what the government classifies as being ‘criminal,’ ” Yusof said. “The language she uses is still criminalizing a large percentage of our community and not addressing the root causes of our broken immigration system.”
In the meantime, university officials have stated that they will continue to preserve the rights of undocumented immigrants by upholding principles aimed to safeguard students’ privacy and further engaging in dialogue about the future of immigration reform.