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Cal State chancellor 'cautiously optimistic' that Congress will protect 'Dreamers'

Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White listens to a speaker at the Cal State Board of Trustees meeting in March. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White listens to a speaker at the Cal State Board of Trustees meeting in March. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White, who flew to Washington, D.C., this week to speak out against President Trump's decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program,  said he was "cautiously optimistic" that Congress will find a way to preserve the program that protects nearly 800,000 young immigrants.

In back-to-back meetings with Republicans and Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) and U.S. Department of Education undersecretary James Manning, the chancellor made his case for the more than 8,000 students without legal status at Cal State, the nation’s largest public university system.

“Folks were empathetic and impressed with how many of our students are involved in the DACA program, how important it is, and how the uncertainty around the possibility of the program going away is debilitating to our students,” White said in an interview Wednesday. “I think there's a will to get something done. There are some who think it might get done in the next handful of weeks and others who think it might take another calendar year. Politics is politics, but I'm cautiously optimistic that there's a permanent, workable legislative solution that's in the mix now."

White’s efforts are part of a larger push by education officials and California state leaders to push back against the Trump administration's call for expanded immigration enforcement and deportation orders.

Trump’s decision to phase out DACA sparked nationwide protests and objections from lawmakers across the political spectrum.

UC President Janet Napolitano sued the Trump administration — the first legal effort by a university to block the decision.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra also filed a lawsuit challenging Trump's decision. Lawyers for 15 other states, led by New York and Washington, have also filed suit.

Dozens of higher education groups, such as the American Council on Education, have called on congressional leaders to pass legislation that protects “Dreamers.”

“These bright and talented young people are working, serving in the armed services, or studying at colleges and universities. Because they now have work permits, they are making contributions to our society and our economy. They are paying taxes and buying cars, homes and consumer goods, which generates economic activity and increases tax revenue for federal, state and local governments,” ACE President Ted Mitchell wrote in a letter to Congress this week. "Colleges and universities have seen these remarkable people up close, in our classrooms and as our colleagues and friends. Despite the challenges they face, they have made an incredible mark on our country and economy. They should continue to be able to do so.”

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislative leaders this week agreed to earmark $30 million for financial aid and legal services to help DACA recipients — $10 million  allocated to supporting students at Cal State, the University of California and the community colleges. The rest would go to nonprofits that contract with the state to help people with their DACA status.

Looking ahead, White said, Cal State administrators will “double down” on making sure that all students and employees who are able to renew their DACA status have the support to do so.

The renewal fee is almost $500 and might be a financial hardship for some families, he said, and Cal State's financial aid offices at its 23 campuses are finding ways to provide additional aid. (Nonprofits such as the Mission Asset Fund are also offering scholarship funds to cover the renewal costs, which students can apply for here.)

White will also be calling on his students and staff, particularly those in districts with Republican representatives, to continue to make the case for DACA, their peers, their professors and their community.

“The more people talk about why this matters, the more we can get something done,” he said.

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