BY HANK REICHMAN
Leaders of California’s three systems of public higher education sent a joint letter to President-elect Donald Trump today urging him to allow students who are in the country illegally to continue their educations without fear of deportation. The letter, signed by University of California President Janet Napolitano, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White and Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor-designate of California Community Colleges, called on the president-elect not to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“DACA is rooted in the fundamental premise that no one should be punished for the actions of others,” the letter states. “In order to be eligible for DACA, an individual must have been brought to this country as a minor, stayed out of trouble, and continued to pursue an education. These sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants are as American as any other child across the nation, in all but in the letter of the law. Some never even spoke the language of their native land. They do not represent a public safety threat. In fact, they represent some of the best our nation has to offer. They voluntarily came forward, out of the shadows, to participate in the DACA program.”
During the campaign Trump said he would reverse the program. DACA has approved nearly 1.3 million applications nationally from nearly 742,000 people, most of whom also were granted renewals. They included 367,000 applications from more than 214,000 people in California, the most of any state.
The California systems do not track students’ immigration status, but the closest rough estimate comes from AB 540, a 2001 state law that enables some California students who are in the U.S. illegally to qualify for in-state college tuition. Last year, AB 540 waivers were issued to about 61,000 students at community colleges, 10,000 at Cal State and 3,700 at UC. Overall, the three systems educate 2.8 million students.
Administrators say the DACA program, which also gives access to work permits, empowered more students to come out of the shadows. At UC, for instance, the number of students who qualified for AB 540 waivers jumped from 885 in 2011 to 3,765 last year.
Ray Murillo, director of student programs at CSU, the nation’s largest public university system, told the Los Angeles Times that students who are in the country illegally have, since the election, feared deportation the most but also worry about their ability to keep their jobs and pay for school. Before DACA, he said, students had to find under-the-table work, typically with lower pay and poorer working conditions. Now, he said, students can fill campus jobs, compete for internships and study abroad — activities that help them feel more connected to their schools.
Napolitano, who heads the 10-campus, 252,000-student UC system, helped devise DACA in 2012 when she was U.S. Homeland Security secretary under President Obama. At the time, she said, the administration was “stymied” by congressional inaction in its efforts to reform the nation’s immigration laws and offer a path to legalization for those here illegally. Napolitano told the Times she wanted Trump and others to understand that the program is not a “blanket amnesty” as some have labeled it, but requires an individual case review to screen each candidate for potential safety threats, age requirements and other criteria. Nearly 65,000 cases were denied as of June, according to federal immigration data.
Napolitano has convened a task force to examine the potential effect on students of any actions by the incoming administration. All UC campuses have support centers for students in the country illegally, offering academic aid, legal advice and a wide variety of scholarships, fellowships and grants.
“We want to do everything we can to protect DACA students,” Napolitano said. “They have done everything society has asked of them except they were brought here as children undocumented.”
The California letter follows an open letter signed by more than 300 college presidents pushing for DACA to be continued and expanded as a “moral imperative and a national necessity.” That earlier letter was initiated by Pomona College President David Oxtoby. Students who are in the country illegally account today for about 4% of Pomona College’s 1,600 undergraduates.
“DACA — not just for Pomona, but for the whole country — has encouraged high school students to take their studies more seriously and get into college,” Oxtoby said. “Before DACA, they didn’t see the reason to go on, because they didn’t see a future.”
Oxtoby has assured students that Pomona will fill any financial aid gaps should Trump end the program and their access to work permits. Pomona also brought in an immigration lawyer to speak to students seeking legal advice and advised those without legal status not to study abroad next semester “because we just don’t know what will happen when they try to return,” Oxtoby said.
Here is the full text of the letter from Napolitano, White, and Oakley:
November 29, 2016
President-Elect Donald J. Trump
725 5th Avenue
New York, New York 10022
Dear President-Elect Trump:
College and university leaders across the country, and here in California, are concerned about reports regarding potential actions you might be considering, including ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. On behalf of DACA students currently pursuing their dream of higher education in the United States, we urge you to continue this important program and allow these young people to continue to pursue a college education and contribute to their communities and the nation.
DACA is rooted in the fundamental premise that no one should be punished for the actions of others. In order to be eligible for DACA, an individual must have been brought to this country as a minor, stayed out of trouble, and continued to pursue an education. These sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants are as American as any other child across the nation, in all but in the letter of the law. Some never even spoke the language of their native land. They do not represent a public safety threat. In fact, they represent some of the best our nation has to offer. They voluntarily came forward, out of the shadows, to participate in the DACA program.
The University of California, California State University, and the California Community College systems each have thousands of DACA students studying at our institutions. They are constructive and contributing members of our communities. They should be able to pursue their dream of higher education without fear of being arrested, deported, or rounded up for just trying to learn.
There will be time for a vigorous debate and dialogue around immigration reform in the days ahead, and we look forward to engaging with you in a healthy and constructive conversation on this important issue. But now, as you continue to build your new Administration and appoint members of your Cabinet, on behalf of these Dreamers, we implore you to let them know they are valued members of our communities and that they will be allowed to continue to pursue the American dream.
Yours very truly,
University of California
Timothy P. White
California State University
Eloy Ortiz Oakley
California Community Colleges
The AAUP national Council last week released a resolution affirming the association’s support for the movement for sanctuary campuses. That resolution urged college and university administrations to “make all efforts to guarantee the privacy of immigrant students and pledge not to grant access to information that might reveal their immigration status unless so ordered by a court of law. Nor should colleges and universities gather information about the citizenship or immigration status of people who have interactions with the administration, including with campus police. College and university police should not themselves participate in any efforts to enforce immigration laws, which are under federal jurisdiction. Faculty members should join efforts to resist all attempts to intimidate or inappropriately investigate undocumented students or to deny them their full rights to due process and a fair hearing.”