Opportunity For All? UC Office of the President Yet To Make Public Statement

Illustration by Diane Kim

Erick Aragon Alvarado

News Editor

On Sept. 7, UC Los Angeles’s (UCLA) Center for Immigration Law and Policy (CILP) presented a memo to UC President Drake detailing its legal reasoning for why it believes the UC can employ undocumented students. 

Although President Drake has yet to release an official public statement in response to the memo, the Associate Director of Media Relations Ryan King provided The Bottom Line (TBL) with the following comment from the UC: 

“The University of California has long been committed to supporting our undocumented students. These are complex issues that deserve careful and thoughtful consideration, including the potential impacts and legal risks for the University and our undocumented students. We are reviewing the proposal and are in the process of determining the appropriate next steps.”

Together with professors from the CILP and the UCLA Labor Center, the Undocumented Student-Led Network launched the Opportunity for All campaign with the legal memo as its backing. 

In an effort to promote academic equity, the campaign’s immediate goal is to persuade the UC to begin hiring undocumented UC students without DACA across all ten campuses.

Undocumented students without DACA are barred from a formidable number of opportunities often taken for granted by their peers. Perhaps the most consequential of these restrictions is the inability to legally work in the United States.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stopped accepting initial DACA applications in 2017, when the Trump administration attempted to repeal the program but was partly thwarted by the courts, which allowed current recipients to keep renewing. 

Today, in California alone there are over 44,000 undocumented college students who cannot apply for DACA, and 27,000 DACA-ineligible high school students graduate every year in the Golden State.

However, according to the memo, as a state entity, the UC system is not legally bound by the prohibition on hiring undocumented people established in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. 

The authors explain that there is layered precedent for this in the Supreme Court’s repeated finding that in some cases — such as employment — unless a federal law explicitly references the states, they are not bound by said law. 

Astghik Hairapetian is a law fellow at the CILP and one of the researchers and drafters of the legal memo that has been endorsed by 29 immigration and constitutional law professors from law schools all over the country — including UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Davis, New York University, Yale, Stanford, and Cornell. 

When asked about the logistics of implementing the initiative, Hairapetian told TBL that “since California does not have to [comply] with all these processes that it thought it had to comply with for all these years, all those restrictions in terms of needing a Social Security Number [etc.] suddenly fall away.” As a result, “California is able to hire whoever it wants, [and] to hire the best person for state positions, including things like teaching assistants [and] graduate student researchers.”

A notable implication of the legal memo is that any state entity, in any state, should be able to hire undocumented people if they so choose, and the UC has the opportunity to set that precedent. 

The campaign remains hopeful in the face of overwhelming support and media coverage, including from The New York Times, and also cites the UC’s legal fight for DACA and its continuous support for undocumented UC students. 

To learn more about the campaign you can visit their Instagram page, take a look at their campaign digital toolkit, or read their sign-on letter