Over a thousand students filled the UC Santa Barbara campus on Election Day 2016 in protest of president-elect Donald Trump. As the echoes of protests die down throughout the country, students are once again bristling in anticipation of a new presidency that may cause irreparable change throughout the country.
Undocumented students have fallen into the center of this struggle, pinpointed by Trump’s unfavorable rhetoric regarding undocumented immigrants and President Obama’s 2012 initiative, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The California government, the University of California and university law enforcement now attempt to provide answers in the eight days until inauguration.
In late 2016, UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang signed a statement endorsed by the Association of American Universities in support of DACA. Chancellors from all 10 UC campuses, including UC President Janet Napolitano, also signed the statement.
Napolitano, a trained lawyer, was the former United States Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013. She was criticized at the beginning of her term for implementing the controversial Secure Communities program, an immigration-enforcement policy that detected undocumented immigrants via fingerprints taken by local police.
In the last three years, however, she has supported the UC’s D.R.E.A.M. Loan Program for undocumented students, allocated $2.5 million per year for created undocumented student fellowships and granted UC’s Undocumented Legal Services Center $900,000 per year under the Undocumented Student Services Program.
“There are a lot of questions with the incoming Trump administration, what it means for universities and what it means for students,” Napolitano said on Jan. 6, speaking to a group of UC journalists. “We don’t have answers to those questions, nobody knows the answers.”
To combat the unknown, the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) released a set of principles in December listing the boundaries of university police and medical services. “We are very clear that we are not turning university police into surrogate immigration agents, and we’re not gonna be voluntarily turning over student records,” she said.
When asked about retaliation from the federal government if the UC does not comply with the new presidency, Napolitano said the UC was not in immediate threat.
“There’s a lot of talk, particularly in the Republican party right now, about cutting funding in a lot of areas,” she said. “They haven’t singled out campuses, nor have they singled out campuses that have stated their values as we have.”
Others, though a small minority, support Trump’s ideas and believe undocumented students do not have a place on UC campuses.
A student who wished to stay anonymous, fearing retaliation, has begun organizing efforts to report undocumented students who attend UC Santa Barbara. He said the group is in a “planning and monitoring phase only” prior to Trump’s inauguration, hoping for a “likely scenario” that the future president will repeal DACA.
“If Trump lets us down, then it is possible that this will lead nowhere,” he said. “We have a large and growing number of students on board and we have notified the university of our plans, but for the time being, we are all waiting until January 20th.”
The group is not affiliated with any campus organization, according to the student, and its goal is ensure that UCSB abides by United States immigration laws.
“I cannot reveal our tactics yet,” the student said. “All I can say for now, is that we consider ourselves to be an honest and patriotic team of whistleblowers when it comes to the potentially illegal activity happening at UCSB.”
Students who have been vocal about reporting undocumented immigrants on the UCSB campus have received threats on social media, and the student who spoke with the Nexus said he had heard violent, threatening rumors and been called a “fascist and a Nazi.”
In response to a question regarding students who hope to join similar groups at other UC’s, Napolitano said Jan. 6 that it would be more prudent to focus on reporting criminal activity, rather than young people who travel to the U.S. to gain an education.
Students are currently in the final planning stages of a large walkout to take place on inauguration day Jan. 20, with the Student Activist Network hosting several meetings to create posters and make maps of a march route.
Administrators and faculty from UCSB have created an ad-hoc committee to discuss undocumented students’ safety while on campus. Among several ideas, campus administrators hope to distribute “know your rights” pamphlets, create faculty sanctuary homes for students and reinforce mental health services for students who feel threatened.
On Nov. 15, Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow said that the SBPD was committed to protecting individual rights, reassuring concerned residents.
“We will continue to arrest and seek prosecution of anyone who has committed a crime in Santa Barbara, but the immigration status alone of individuals in Santa Barbara is NOT a matter for police action,” she said in a statement.
A version of this story appeared on p. 1 of the Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017 edition of the Daily Nexus.