Cal Alumni Association holds panel discussing immigrant experience at UC Berkeley

Lianne Frick/Staff

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About 100 people gathered in the Alumni House on Tuesday to attend a panel hosted by the Cal Alumni Association, where panelists discussed the effects of the Trump administration’s immigration policies on undocumented campus students.

Diane Dwyer, an award-winning journalist and a UC Berkeley Haas School of Business faculty member, moderated the discussion. The panel was part of CALIFORNIA Live!, a series of talks hosted by the CAA that are centered around contemporary issues. Four of the five panelists were campus alumni, and panel topics included potential resources for undocumented students and ways the campus community can contribute to the cause.

“We felt that it was important for our alumni and our campus to be educated,” said CAA Executive Director Cloey Hewlett. “We also thought it was important to bring a human face to those who are affected by the policies.”

Valeska Castaneda-Puerto, a CAA program manager for student support, initiated the discussion by telling her personal story as an undocumented immigrant, including the struggles she and her family faced under the threat of deportation.

Additionally, Castaneda-Puerto spoke about an undocumented student she worked with who had to reject an offer to attend the London School of Economics because he feared that if he left the country, he would not be able to return.

“(The student) couldn’t understand how their humanity was reduced to an immigration status,” Castaneda-Puerto said at the event.

Saira Hussain, a staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, informed the crowd of current state legislation that protects the rights of undocumented individuals. Hussain said during the panel that local jails are prohibited from holding people past their release times for immigration reasons, and that individuals detained for review have the right to an attorney and the right to refuse an interview.

During the panel, Seth Grossman, chief of staff to UC President Janet Napolitano, said the federal government has a “limited” ability to use funding as a way to coerce states and local agencies to comply with deportation policies.

But when asked if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is allowed on UC property, Grossman said at the panel that UC campuses are public spaces, but added that dorms or restricted buildings are private spaces. According to Grossman, all rights that apply to an immigration officer visiting an individual’s home would apply in private spaces.

When asked how he addresses complaints from students who believe that undocumented students are taking their spots, Grossman said UC Berkeley would not be the same without immigrant students, adding that undocumented students are a “crucial feature” of the campus.

“Often times, you’ll hear rhetoric flying around on who’s deserving and who’s undeserving, and I want us to take a deeper look into those narratives,” said Meng So, director of the UC Berkeley Undocumented Student Program, at the event.

Robert Haas, chairman-emeritus of Levi Strauss & Co., said during the panel that people should donate to scholarships, supplies or any emergency needs that an undocumented student may have. Haas added that he believed everyone in the audience was either an immigrant or a descendant of an immigrant and, by that logic, that everyone has “a personal stake in this issue.”

Contact Francesca Munsayac at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fcfm_dc.