UC must get more funding for undocumented students

Undocumented students across the UC standing together
Nishali Naik/Staff

On Jan. 11, Gov. Gavin Newsom put forward a $209 billion state budget proposal that outlines his vision for the state. The bill includes a series of funding increases for the UC, which signal a welcome departure from former governor Jerry Brown’s more restrained appropriations. The governor’s proposal allocated $1.3 million for undocumented students’ legal services and $5.3 million for general student mental health services. Both the UC Office of the President and the UC Students Association have expressed that the bill is a solid first step toward addressing the larger funding issues that continue to plague the university.

The UC Undocumented Student Coalition was heartened by the governor’s consideration. The coalition is a student association that represents undocumented students across all 10 UC campuses. Its mission is to ensure that undocumented students have access to the institutional resources and support necessary for them to succeed at the university. Its efforts in the past have mostly centered on funding — for legal services, mental health services, financial aid and all of the other assistance required to make their presence at the UC possible.

Yet, while the increase is an improvement upon previous annual budgets, the funding is insufficient to fully cover legal services on all 10 campuses. At UC Berkeley alone, there are roughly 500 undocumented students. These legal aid services are aimed not just at them but at their immediate families as well. A fully funded legal center would ideally include a full-time lawyer on campus, a paralegal or two and the office and administrative requirements necessary to make them available to students and their families. While the $1.3 million allocation would ensure a lawyer on each campus, it wouldn’t necessarily provide students or attorneys with the administrative or structural support required to help these services succeed.

Recent years have also seen a growing need for accessible mental health services for all students. The new budget addresses these concerns directly by proposing $5.3 million toward the hiring of more clinicians in an effort to meet previously recommended staff-to-student ratios. But this allocation doesn’t make mention of increasing mental health services specifically for undocumented students. Currently, UC Berkeley has a counselor dedicated solely to students who identify as undocumented or who come from mixed-status families. Demand for such counseling has only increased under the uncertainty caused by the Trump administration. Similar resources are desperately needed on other campuses, especially those such as UC Merced, where the undocumented student population is larger and demand is much higher.

While the coalition is appreciative of the governor’s new budget, it has also determined that additional funds are necessary in order to fully meet the needs of undocumented UC students. For legal services, this includes expanding the $1.3 million allocation to $2.3 million. For mental health services, this includes a $2 million increase of the already-established $5.3 million. The former would provide a sense of security for students as they try to navigate the country’s broken immigration system; the latter would afford them the resources to address resulting mental health concerns while still allowing a significant increase in mental health services for other campus communities.

As the the governor’s budget makes its way through the Legislature, it’s important to stress why services like these are necessary. On Jan. 19, the 28th day of the most recent government shutdown, President Donald Trump offered congressional Democrats a deal: full funding for the wall he wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border in exchange for three years of legal protection for recipients of DACA and temporary protected status, or TPS. Democrats have called his proposal a “nonstarter,” right-wing commentators have decried him for “amnesty,” and the proposal seems unlikely to gain any significant political traction in upcoming negotiations.

Undocumented people, specifically undocumented youth and students, have been caught in the middle of these types of political dealings before, and they will be here again. Their existence in the United States and whatever status they may currently hold depends on the everyday decisions of politicians. The best many of them can hope for is to be a bargaining chip in legislative negotiations and to have bare-minimum protections, such as DACA and TPS, that keep them in political limbo.

The University of California is in charge of educating an entire generation of undocumented students, but it can also help shield them from the skewed politics that otherwise define their lives. The UC already leads the country in educational accessibility and progressive policy. The next step forward is to provide students with resources that empower them. Increased state funding would demonstrate the university’s and the state’s continued investment in one of their most vulnerable yet most promising student groups.

Ximena Valdarrago is a junior at UC Berkeley and the Berkeley representative of the UC Undocumented Student Coalition.