The UC Board of Regents voted to suspend Regents Policy 4407 — a policy advocated for by the Opportunity for All campaign that would provide undocumented students with equal access to university employment — for one year at its Jan. 27 meeting.
The vote was split 9-6, with one vote to abstain.
The policy was approved on May 18, 2023, to convene a Regents working group alongside the UC Office of the President (UCOP) to determine the next steps by Nov. 30.
UC President Michael V. Drake commented on the decision in a UCOP press statement, saying the “proposed legal pathway is not viable at this time.”
“Over several months, we consulted formally with numerous law firms and legal experts inside and outside the University,” the letter read. “We also explored other legal options and approaches, including declaratory relief. And we carefully studied the possible, substantial risks.”
“After all of this, we have concluded that the proposed legal pathway is not viable at this time, and in fact carries significant risk for the institution and for those we serve. For that reason, it is inadvisable for the University to initiate implementation right now.”
Drake cited various risks as “possible ramifications of our actions,” including “criminal prosecution, deportation,” among others.
“We must protect our institution, which would be subject to civil fines, criminal penalties, or debarment from federal contracting if the University is found to be in violation of the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act.”
Advocacy for the policy through the Opportunity for All campaign focused on a legal theory that found 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.
Upon the proposition of suspending the policy by UC Board of Regents Chair Richard Leib, UC Regent John Pérez spoke to the board.
“Mr. Chair, members, I can’t think of a moment where I’ve been more disappointed sitting around this board table,” Pérez said. “I think we are taking a pause at a crucial moment on an issue that requires our commitment, and quite frankly, I wish I was more surprised.”
Pérez emphasized that a yearlong suspension can be “life-altering” for students who are only on campus for four to five years.
“What message are we sending? What are we doing to the very prospects that our students have?” Pérez said.
Pérez explained that this suspension eliminates the most financially viable option for undocumented students — employment.
“We can fool ourselves into thinking that other options are equivalent to work. They are not. We can fool ourselves into thinking our students are not working. They are. They’re working in underground jobs, subjected to inhumane and horrific conditions. And the opportunity they have is the opportunity that we afford on our campuses.”
UC Regent José Hernández expressed concern that this motion to table the policy eliminates the potential emergence of it in future years.
“[This is] the window of opportunity where we can roll out this program and test it from a legal perspective between now and the end of the year,” Hernández said. “My concern is, we kick it a year, and what happens if we have a new administration? I don’t think this is going to even be considered to be implemented, to tell you the truth.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction and ex officio Regent Tony Thurmond conveyed hope that there would be “future efforts” in supporting undocumented students.
Student Regent-designate Josiah Beharry urged the board to reconsider the motion.
“I met with all of you, and I know how much you care about this institution and the students … but you have an opportunity right now to prove it to [the students],” Beharry said.
“I implore you all to think about the decision you’re making today and know that these people may leave this public room today, but I’ll be here on this board for another year,” Beharry said. “You have to think about the decision, of your actions, every time I come to this meeting. I want you to know that they have to live it, so please, please consider that.”
UC Regent Greg Sarris echoed Beharry’s sentiment, observing the board’s concern about “risk” in this policy when the lives of undocumented students are marked with risk.
“As a leader of an American Indian nation, for us to sit here and be so concerned and keep talking about risk when the students and their families have gone through so much risk just to get here, only can strike me as patronizing,” Sarris said. “The bottom line is the students, their families have come to take a chance with risk. They are here waiting to take a chance. I will take that chance with them and vote no.”
UC Regent Joel Raznick was concerned with perceived risk in implementing Policy 4407.
“For what it is worth, I want to say how highly considered this decision has been and how highly explored it has been,” Raznick said. “What I am seeing is that there’s substantial and consequential risk, but risk to the extent that it impacts the functioning potentiality of the university.”
Leib closed the discussion before the motions began.
“I went into this with the absolute determination to get something done, and I’m just very disappointed that we were not able to find the pathway that we wanted to,” Leib said. “I feel like we are not ready at this moment. I’m going to pledge myself to help get this resolved, I just don’t feel like I can do it right now.”
Following the suspension of Regents Policy 4407, an audience member shouted at the board amidst cries from others in the crowd.
“I hope you live with this for the rest of your life. I earned my right here. I chose you over Harvard, and for what? For you to do this to me? For you to do this to us? I’m starving, I’ve been starving for so long because of you,” the audience member said.
“I want you to look me in the eye, and tell me you’re not cowards. Each and every one of you are cowards. I hope you live with this for the rest of your life. Your parents will be ashamed, your children will be ashamed. You are worthless, and you are worthless to be sitting at that bench.”
Second-year sociology major and External Vice President for Statewide Affairs (EVPSA) Undocumented Student Representative Daniela Ortiz Mendez said the final decision was “disappointing” but “not surprising.”
“We heard a lot of things about how the UCs didn’t want to damage their reputation, especially since it seemed like the Biden administration was also pushing against it,” Mendez said in an interview with the Nexus.
Mendez urged the undocumented student community to “not lose hope” in face of this decision, saying the EVPSA office will continue to advocate for the livelihood of undocumented students.
“I know that it’s really hard, especially for those that can’t work, especially for those that are struggling right now,” Mendez said. “Regardless of that, we still got to the University.”
“We’re still here, and we’ll continue to be here and fight for the undocumented students.”
The Undocumented Student-Led Network published a statement in response on Jan. 29, condemning the decision by the UC Regents.
“Opportunity for All represented a simple, foundational step for the University of California to prove its long-stated commitments to us and all of their undocumented students,” the statement read. “The UC may have taken a step back in its duty to undocumented students, but we have taken the five steps forward in mobilizing and liberating our community.”
“Our movement is just beginning; we urge the world to get ready.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the Feb. 1, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.