Decision on Hiring Immigrant Students Deferred by UC Board

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In a pivotal decision, the University of California’s Board of Regents voted 9 to 6 on Thursday to postpone the consideration of whether undocumented students should be allowed to apply for jobs across its 10 campuses. The proposed plan aimed at creating a legal pathway for immigrant students without legal status faced strong opposition, with University President Michael Drake cautioning of “significant risk” that could lead to criminal prosecution for both the institution and the students.

Amidst shouts of “Cowards!” from the audience, the board opted to defer the decision until 2025, leaving proponents of the initiative disappointed and labeling it a missed opportunity for the university system to champion the rights of undocumented students. The move comes at a critical juncture, with as many as 4,000 immigrant students potentially benefiting from the policy, previously covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

President Drake, before the vote, expressed reservations about the viability of the proposed legal pathway, emphasizing the potential dangers it posed to the institution and those it serves. He highlighted the risk of criminal prosecution and subsequent deportation for students lacking legal status, creating a cascade effect that could subject the university system to fines, criminal penalties, and jeopardize grants and funding.

“We are taking a pause at a crucial moment on an issue that requires our commitment,” lamented California Assembly Speaker Emeritus and UC Regent John A. Pérez. He argued that this was an opportunity for the university system to exhibit moral authority by being bold and taking risks on behalf of immigrant students.

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The University of California, renowned for its academic excellence, boasts a student population exceeding 295,000. The deferred decision now raises questions about the institution’s commitment to providing equal opportunities to all its students, regardless of their immigration status.

The proposed policy also brings the university system into conflict with a 1986 federal law that prohibits individuals without immigration status from legally working. This legal challenge, coupled with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding DACA after a federal judge in Texas declared it illegal in September, underscores the complex landscape that the university is navigating.

Notably, the federal policy initiated by former President Barack Obama aimed to shield hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. The legal battle over DACA’s fate is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court for a third time, underscoring the urgency and significance of decisions made at the institutional level.

The regents who opposed the delay expressed disappointment, emphasizing that it was a missed opportunity for the University of California to lead the charge in supporting the rights of undocumented students. Jeffry Umaña Muñoz, a UCLA student and leader at the Undocumented Student-Led Network, criticized the decision, stating, “I’m deeply disappointed that the UC Regents and President Drake shirked their duties to the students they are supposed to protect and support.”

The proposed policy has been met with resistance from various quarters, with Department of Homeland Security officials yet to comment on the matter. Advocates argue that the university system has the legal right to authorize the hiring of undocumented students, citing a legal theory presented to the regents in October 2022.

Ahilan Arulanantham, faculty co-director at the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, expressed disappointment at the regents’ decision, labeling it “deeply shameful.” He reiterated that their legal theory clearly establishes the university’s right to permit the employment of undocumented students and emphasized the challenging circumstances faced by these students as they simultaneously pursue their studies and fight for their right to survive at the UC.

As the University of California grapples with the complexities of immigration policies and legal challenges, the deferred decision leaves the fate of undocumented students hanging in the balance. The ramifications extend beyond the campus, impacting the broader discourse on immigration rights and the role of educational institutions in advocating for inclusivity and equal opportunities. The delay raises questions about the university’s commitment to its diverse student body and its stance on being a trailblazer in championing the rights of all students, irrespective of their immigration status.

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