UC President Janet Napolitano reiterates vow to protect immigrant students

University of California President Janet Napolitano assured vulnerable immigrant students Wednesday that, despite fear and uncertainty about President Trump’s intentions, the university would protect them. 

“UC chancellors and I have reaffirmed our intentions to ensure that every corner of the University of California remains welcoming, safe and inclusive for all,” Napolitano said at a two-day meeting of the Board of Regents in San Francisco. 

Trump signed executive orders Wednesday signaling a crackdown on illegal immigration, but he has not yet moved to end an Obama administration program that deferred deportation against young people who are in the country illegally. The program, Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was created by Napolitano when she served as Homeland Security secretary under Obama.

UC officials indicated that they intend to fight back if Trump does end the program, which could jeopardize an estimated 3,700 UC students who are living in the country illegally.

The regents plan to discuss the “prelitigation potential” of possible university responses to Trump’s actions on immigration in a closed session Thursday, Regent George Kieffer said. He asked UC officials Wednesday about whether such responses would be legal.

“We know that the new president has certain views on immigration, DACA…. We’re going to be in a position in some ways to be opposite to him,” Kieffer said. “Do we have solid legal foundation for some of the actions we’ll be taking?”

“Everything that we do will be thoroughly researched and grounded in law,” replied Nelson Peacock, the university system’s senior vice president for state and federal government relations.

A working group formed by Napolitano the day after Trump’s election in November is developing possible responses to any repeal of the DACA program or other actions that would harm their students, said Julia Friedlander, UC deputy general counsel. She declined to elaborate on what such actions might be.

“There’s a great deal of concern, but we’ll have to see the fine print” of any move by Trump before responding, she said. “The university has a commitment to equal opportunity, and we will do everything in our power to fulfill that commitment.”

UC officials announced last November that they would refuse to assist federal immigration agents, turn over confidential student records without court orders or supply information for any national registry based on race, national origin or religion. But they did not declare UC a “sanctuary campus.”

Paul Monge, a student regent-designate and UC Berkeley law student, said he would urge UC leaders to take “bold action” to protect immigrant students at risk under Trump. He said that if Trump revoked DACA and ended access to legal work permits for the students it covered, UC should still hire them anyway.

“Losing employment authorization would be devastating to students,” he said. “Unique times require unique solutions.” 

Peacock told regents it did not appear that Trump was focusing on DACA. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Tuesday that Trump would move first to build a wall on the border with Mexico and deport criminals.

In other comments, Napolitano urged regents to approve a tuition increase to help the nation’s premier public research university system maintain its quality amid surging enrollment and reduced levels of state support.

“More investment is needed to make sure that this generation, and future generations, of UC students receive the same quality of education as past generations,” she said.

Regents will vote Thursday on a proposal to raise tuition to $11,502 for the 2017-18 school year — a 2.5%, or $282, increase. The student services fee would increase by $54 to $1,128. If approved, the tuition increase would be the UC system’s first since the 2010-11 school year. 

Financial aid would cover the increases for two-thirds of the university’s roughly 175,500 California resident undergraduates.

Members of several unions representing UC workers packed the meeting Wednesday to ask regents for higher pay, better working conditions and a return to a traditional fixed-benefits retirement plan, instead of a 401(k)-style plan, for new workers. 

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Twitter: @teresawatanabe

 

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