University of California board delays vote over hiring immigrant students without legal status

Jan 25, 2024, 6:43 PM | Updated: 8:00 pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The University of California’s governing board on Thursday punted a decision of whether to allow immigrant students without legal status to apply for jobs on its 10 campuses, with the system’s president warning doing so would carry “significant risk” for the institution and students, including possible criminal prosecution.

The Board of Regents voted 9-6 to delay considering the plan until 2025 amid shouts of “Cowards!” from some in the audience.

Before the vote, University of California President Michael Drake told the board that the proposed legal pathway for the student work plan was “not viable right now” and said implementing such a plan would carry “significant risk for the institution and for those we serve.”

Drake said the policy could put immigrant students at risk of criminal prosecution and then deportation for working while lacking legal status. That, in turn, would put the university system at risk of fines and criminal penalties for employing them, and pose a potential threat to grants and other funding. He said the university system will continue to explore its options.

Regents who opposed delaying the plan shared their disappointment and called it a missed opportunity for the university system to lead in the fight for the rights of immigrant students who don’t have legal status.

“We are taking a pause at a crucial moment on an issue that requires our commitment,” said California Assembly Speaker Emeritus and UC Regent John A. Pérez. “If you stand and say this is the time for us to actually be bold, and take individual and institutional risks then you speak to a different sense of moral authority.”

The prestigious university system has more than 295,000 students. The policy could benefit as many as 4,000 immigrant students who would previously have been allowed to work under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

The federal policy implemented by former President Barack Obama prevents the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. It was declared illegal by a federal judge in Texas in September. The judge’s ruling is ultimately expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, sending the program’s fate before the high court for a third time.

UC’s policy would also challenge a 1986 federal law prohibiting people without immigration status from legally working.

For years, students without legal immigration status have attended University of California schools while paying in-state tuition.

Department of Homeland Security officials did not respond to a request for comment on the proposal considered by the board of regents.

“I’m deeply disappointed that the UC Regents and President Drake shirked their duties to the students they are supposed to protect and support,” Jeffry Umaña Muñoz, UCLA student and leader at Undocumented Student-Led Network, said in a statement.

Ahilan Arulanantham, faculty co-director at the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law called it “deeply shameful” that the regents refused to adopt the policy now.

“Our legal theory, which we presented to the regents in October 2022, makes clear: the University of California has the legal right to authorize the hiring of undocumented students today,” Arulanantham said. “I have had the immense privilege of working with these students for the past couple of years, and I’ve seen firsthand how challenging it is to simultaneously pursue their studies and fight for their right to survive at the UC.”

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University of California board delays vote over hiring immigrant students without legal status