The Associated Students Offices of the President and the External Vice President for Statewide Affairs held a town hall on Friday, Jan. 19, to promote a campaign for the University of California to hire undocumented students.
The campaign, Opportunity For All, advocates for the University of California (UC) to lift hiring restrictions on undocumented students, citing a legal theory that federal immigration policy does not prohibit state entities from hiring based on legal status. The campaign spans back to 2022, after several rulings on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — the primary pathway for undocumented students to obtain work authorization — barred new applicants from being processed.
Undocumented Student-Led Network (USN) Outreach Director and UC Santa Barbara third-year computer science major Cindy Guzman led the event in the Student Resource Building in collaboration with speakers from the office of the EVPSA and Associated Students Office of the President (ASOP). Nearly 20 students, 14 in person and five online, attended the town hall.
“We have to ask over and over and over again until it’s no longer an ask, it’s a fight. And this fight has not ended. And this fight will not end. We continue to fight for these things because it’s important to us,” External Vice President for Statewide Affairs (EVPSA) and fourth-year political science major Vero Caveroegusquiza said during the town hall. “Everybody should have the opportunity to work. Everybody should have the opportunity for financial stability.”
The town hall also rallied the UC Santa Barbara community to showcase campaign support at the next UC Regents meeting, scheduled for Jan. 23-25 at UC San Francisco. If the Regents propose and approve a policy, an estimated 4,000 undocumented UC students could become eligible to work system-wide, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center.
To begin the town hall, Guzman gave a brief overview of USN and her involvement. She said the USN is a “network of undocumented students across the UCs” with aims to expand nationwide.
Her own involvement with the organization began after attending the UCLA Dream Summer fellowship, where she connected with fellow undocumented students, learned to organize social justice efforts and became aware of career opportunities following graduation.
“When I went to the Undocumented Student Network, I was like ‘man, being undocumented sucks. What am I going to do after I graduate?’” Guzman said. “But I was able to connect with all these people and they really showed me you have to keep fighting back and trying. It was really empowering.”
Guzman then introduced Abraham Cruz, a USN representative and UCLA fourth-year public affairs major, who attended through Zoom. Cruz explained that the Opportunity For All campaign has many parallels with the campaign to pass DACA.
“We had DACA in the first place because of undocumented students. Undocumented youth got together, started organizing, started sit-ins, started doing marches, started getting arrested and doing direct action to pressure the Obama administration,” Cruz said.
Led by the USN, Opportunity For All has garnered system-wide support from the UC community, rallying hundreds of students outside the Regents building at a May 2023 UC Regents meeting. This prompted the UC Regents to promise an implementation plan for it by November 2023.
UC President Michael Drake delayed the announcement for an implementation plan at the Nov. 16 meeting.
“The legal considerations are numerous, and, after several discussions with the stakeholders involved, we’ve concluded that it is in everyone’s best interest to continue to study the matter further,” Drake said at the time, according to the Daily Bruin. “We want to ensure that we are considering possible alternatives and all possible ramifications.”
During the town hall, Cruz said the UC Regents and President Drake were “failing their undocumented students.”
“If they had voted back in November to approve this thing, the [undocumented] students could have been hired already,” Cruz said.
Guzman then introduced the UCLA Faculty Co-Director of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy (CILP) and Professor from Practice Ahilan Arulanantham, who attended through Zoom. Arulanantham said that the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) — the law that bars undocumented people from work — was the first federal prohibition on hiring individuals.
In 1996, Congress amended the law to define entities as “any branch of the federal government,” Arulanantham said. This clause of IRCA, identified after a year of intensive research, became the legal framework for CILP to empirically support UC-wide hiring of undocumented students. The theory was endorsed by 29 prominent legal scholars and has not been disproved since its publication two years ago, according to Arulanantham.
“Congress ultimately has the power. They get to pick and choose and generally they can dictate. They’re the supreme government. So when they want to tell the states what to do, they have to do it clearly by writing the word ‘state’ into the coverage provisions of their laws,” Arulanantham said.
Student representatives then shared their life experiences being undocumented and called to support Opportunity For All.
Second-year political science major and A.S. Director of Dream Scholar Affairs Sophia Camba Gonzalez shared her personal connection to the campaign, as she immigrated to the United States from Mexico City when she was 12 years old.
“Most of us, if not all, didn’t make that decision, not understanding what immigrating to the US meant, yet we bear the consequences,” Camba Gonzalez said. “I dream of the day I can walk into the [library] and see Cindy at the front desk, of the day I can work as an orientation leader and see Brian as part of the crew too, of the day that all of us get our first check.”
EVPSA Undocumented Student Representative and second-year sociology major Daniella Ortiz, who moved to the United States when she was two years old, discussed the challenges she has faced as an undocumented student.
“There are very few resources for us out there, no matter what people tell you. The college will support you, will give you money, but it’s never enough, because we’re always one step behind everyone on the ladder, just because we don’t have a piece of paper,” Ortiz said.
To conclude the Town Hall event, Caveroegusquiza gave a call to action, urging audience members to submit public comments for the upcoming Regents meeting by emailing the Chancellor, filing for public comment online through the Regents website or attending the meeting in-person.
“Making public comment at Regent[s] meetings can be really really important. The Regents, to say the very least, can be very disconnected from reality,” Caveroegusquiza said. “Giving public comment is one of the very few ways they can actually hear your stories.”
A version of this article appeared on p.3 of the Jan. 25, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.