California educational leaders vow to protect immigrant students from deportation

Within minutes of the Trump Administration’s announcement that it would end protections for nearly 800,000 young immigrants in the country without legal status, California campus leaders began a furious pushback.

From large campuses to small, education leaders on Tuesday vowed to join together to protect their vulnerable students.

California is home to the nation’s largest concentration of students — about 214,000 as of last year — who received temporary protection from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

University of California President Janet Napolitano quickly announced in a statement that the 10-campus UC system, which educates an estimated 4,000 students who are in the country without legal status, would keep fighting to defend its vulnerable students.

“This backward-thinking, far-reaching move threatens to separate families and derail the futures of some of this country’s brightest young minds, thousands of whom currently attend or have graduated from the University of California,” said Napolitano, who was an architect of the DACA program as Homeland Security secretary in the Obama administration.

California State University Chancellor Timothy White, in a message to the campus community, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision but assured immigrant students that changes in federal policy would not affect their ability to enroll at Cal State schools, pay in-state tuition or receive state financial aid. Of the system's 480,000 students on 23 campuses, about 10,000 received in-state tuition benefits in 2015 under AB 540, the state's closest proxy for estimating the number of students without legal status.

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, vowed in a statement to work with others to press Congress to extend the protections. “Ending DACA is a heartless and senseless decision that goes against American ideals and basic human decency,” said Oakley, whose 114 community colleges educated 2.1 million students. About 61,000 received in-state tuition under AB 540 in 2015.

The three leaders — joined by state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Kristen Soares, president of the Assn. of Independent California Colleges and Universities — sent a letter to California’s congressional delegation urging Congress to provide long-term security and a path to citizenship for the DACA students.

Meanwhile, some immigrant students announced that they were “undocumented and unafraid.” One of them, who asked that only her first name Yael be used to avoid retaliation, was brought to the United States illegally from Mexico when she was 4. She excelled at her La Puente high school, with a 4.5 GPA. At UCLA, she has maintained a 3.5 GPA even as she worked two jobs and took leadership roles in campus organizations.

“This is the time to hit the streets and organize. DACA does not define us,” said Yael, 22, who is on track to graduate this month in psychology and labor and workplace studies. “We are human beings who deserve dignity, peace and justice above all.”

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Twitter: @teresawatanabe


UPDATES:

Oct. 2, 5:50 p.m.: Yael’s last name was removed from a previous version of this story after reports received of threats against the student.

This article was originally published on Sept. 5, 6:20 p.m.

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