University of California prohibits the hiring of undocumented students

This story has been updated with additional quotes.

The University of California has decided not to permit the employment of undocumented students on its campuses, which has disappointed students who were advocating for the right to work without legal status.

Michael Drake, the president of the University of California (UC), addressed the UC board of regents on Thursday and stated that allowing undocumented students to work campus jobs would be “the right thing to do.” However, he added that the university faced too many legal risks, making it “not viable.”

Drake highlighted various potential legal repercussions, including civil fines, criminal penalties, debarment from federal contracting for the university, and possible prosecution for human resources staff who engage in impermissible hiring practices under federal law. He also warned that undocumented students and their families could face prosecution or deportation.

“I know that many in our community will be disappointed that we are unable to take immediate action. As an individual, I would like nothing more than to do so right here, right now, because it is the right thing to do,” Drake added. “However, we have a fiduciary responsibility to consider all possible ramifications of our actions.”

The regents have voted to suspend the consideration of the policy for one year. Some regents opposing the motion expressed concerns that implementing the policy in the future could be even more challenging, especially if former President Donald Trump returns to office.

Reacting to the regents’ decision, Jeffry Umaña Muñoz, an undergraduate student at UCLA and one of the undocumented students leading the movement supporting the proposal, said, “Our classmates can apply for any job on campus, helping them not only get by financially on a daily basis but also advancing their careers, while we remain forced to rely on incredibly limited resources.” He expressed deep disappointment in the UC Regents and President Drake, stating that they neglected their duties to protect and support the students.

Several regents, including Keith Ellis, Jose Hernandez, John Pérez, Gregory Sarris, student regent Merhawi Tesfai, and Tony Thurmond, voted against the decision to suspend the policy. Thurmond, as the state’s superintendent of public instruction, serves as an ex-officio member of the regents. Ellis, an alumni regent, also serves as an ex-officio member.

Over a year ago, a coalition of undocumented students and legal scholars began urging UC to allow the hiring of undocumented students. They argued that as a state entity, UC is exempt from a 1986 federal statute that prohibits employing immigrants without legal status.

UC officials initiated a formal study on the matter last spring, expressing the board’s intention to eventually enable the employment of undocumented students. However, John Pérez, a regent who was appointed in 2014 and served as the board’s chair for one year starting in 2019, expressed his extreme disappointment with the decision.

“We have gotten so focused on the question of what the law clearly says today, that we’re losing sight of the moral imperative of what the law should be interpreted as being,” Pérez stated. He emphasized the importance of challenging and pushing boundaries to gain a deeper understanding.

The regents’ decision comes after Politico reported on Wednesday that officials in President Joe Biden’s administration privately opposed the proposal and cautioned UC about potential legal consequences. The administration even threatened to sue.

When asked for confirmation, a UC spokesperson stated that the university regularly engages with various partners and maintains compliance with existing federal laws. However, the spokesperson did not provide further details about the discussions.

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