The University of California pledged Thursday to continue supporting immigrant students, hours after the United States Supreme Court rejected the Trump administration’s plan to rescind temporary protections for young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children.
UC President Janet Napolitano and Chairman of the Board of Regents John A. Pérez welcomed the court’s decision in a case that the UC system first filed in 2017 and said the university would continue providing its generous support services to immigrants, including the nation’s first free legal services center for students without legal status.
“They continue to have special needs, particularly in today’s environment, and we want to make sure that we are supporting them as they continue their college education,” Napolitano said in a conference call Thursday.
UC’s 10-campus system has about 4,000 students without legal documents, but it is unknown how many of them qualified for temporary protection against deportation and the right to a work permit under the program in question, known as Action. Deferred for the Arrival of Children.
Napolitano created that program in 2012 as Secretary of Homeland Security, benefiting immigrants who came to the United States illegally before the age of 16, attended school, and stayed away from trouble. Those beneficiaries became known as “Dreamers”.
Pérez noted that California has long been at the forefront of immigrant rights, a cause he said he left when he was a 15-year-old student in the 1980s. Under a law known as AB 540, the state it allows students without legal residence to pay tuition from the state university if they attended California schools, and the California Dream Act provides limited financial aid to immigrant students without legal status.
Such actions “express the desire of those of us in California to make sure that we expand opportunities and work to achieve comprehensive immigration reform as well,” said Pérez. “And so I think it is no surprise to anyone that this university will continue to commit to representing the interests of all of our students.”
UC leaders, along with California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White and California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, promised to fight for a permanent path to citizenship for the approximately 11 million immigrants in United States that do not have legal status.
Cal State’s 23 campus system has about 9,800 enrolled students without legal status, and the 115 community college campus system has about 70,000, including between 20,000 and 35,000 with DACA protections.
“While this decision is an important victory, it does not protect the program from other challenges, nor does it provide a permanent solution to enable our Dreamers to achieve their goals,” White said in a statement. “The CSU continues to urge Congress to take swift, bipartisan legislative action toward a much-needed permanent solution so that our Dreamers can continue to realize their human potential and strengthen our campuses, communities, state and nation.”
Cal State Fullerton, which launched the first Cal State system resource center for students without legal status in 2014, had scheduled virtual listening and counseling sessions for Thursday in case the high court sided with Trump to rescind DACA. Tonantzin Oseguera, associate vice president for student affairs at Cal State Fullerton, who lacked legal papers when she first immigrated from Mexico, said the sessions have been in full swing in recent weeks as anxiety over the impending decision by the court.
Many students were particularly nervous about the fact that the federal government has their addresses and other necessary personal information on their DACA applications. “There has been a real concern that officers use that information, find you and put you in a cell,” she said.
On Thursday, however, he was all smiling and said the sessions would now be celebrations. “Honestly, I was surprised” by the court’s decision, he said. “This is a great and significant victory for our dreamers. They can continue to go to school and continue their livelihoods as productive citizens.”
Clara Medina Maya, a UC Merced graduate who just finished a one-year fellowship at the University of Chicago, woke up Thursday with a series of text messages celebrating the high court’s decision. The first was from a co-worker at 7:07 am: “THE SUPREME COURT BLOCKS THE CANCELLATION OF THE DACA PROGRAM.”
Medina Maya, who was brought to the Los Angeles area from Mexico at the age of 4, said the news means a quiet life – at least for now – working for an Illinois higher education advocacy group and then seeking a graduate degree in public policy.
“I felt a great relief,” said Medina Maya. “This is definitely the time to take it as a victory for the community and use it to energize us to keep fighting for more.”