While Congress was narrowly able to avoid a government shutdown on Thursday, December 7 by passing a bill to extend government funding by two weeks, Democrats in the Capitol stepped up in their demands for Congress to protect DREAMers before the year’s end.
“We will not leave here without a DACA fix,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on Thursday.
But as the fight to solidify what should become of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, one thing that remains certain is the University of California’s intent to advocate for the roughly 800,000 people brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
“This is a busy time at the University of California,” said University of California (UC) President Janet Napolitano to reporters on Tuesday, December 5 in a meeting meant to provide updates on the university.
The leading public research university had just closed the application season for the upcoming year’s fall entering class, which Napolitano said was among the largest, and most diverse ever in the history of the institution.
After having set off a course two years ago to increase enrollment by 10,000 students, they are expected to surpass that mark by fall of 2018. Napolitano said that last year’s class enrollment was the largest ever since World War II, with current numbers sitting around 260,000 students in total throughout its ten campuses — roughly 200,000 are undergraduate students.
And applications are coming in full force with the UC system last year getting around 200,000 applications. UCLA, its Los Angeles campus, received the most applications of any campus in the entire country, according to Napolitano.
“We anticipate increasing enrollment by approximately 2,000 more students,” said Napolitano.
Aside from its reputation as the world’s leading public research university, UC has prided itself in providing historically underrepresented student populations with opportunities to pursue a world-class higher education through their “Achieve UC” program, for example.
“We view ourselves as a gateway to opportunity for Californians and we’re proud of that,” said Napolitano.
But perhaps the most notable demographic in light of recent issues of immigration are the university’s undocumented student population. According to Napolitano, approximately 4,000 students are thought to be undocumented — a vast majority are in DACA.
For UC, the issue is personal and is especially so for Napolitano who created the DACA program in 2012 while serving as secretary of Department of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013 under the Obama administration.
“I started DACA because it was clear that Congress was not going to be able to act to address or form immigration law comprehensively, and that these young people were particularly the victims of that because they had been brought to the country at a young age,” said Napolitano.
She added that the average age at which people were brought to the U.S was around six years old.
“They grew up in the United States, they played by the rules, they’ve done everything that’s expected of them,” Napolitano added. “They got into the University of California.”
As the program crumbled this year in the hands of the new Trump administration, the university has continued to set in place resources and services to help DREAMers. These services include the DREAM loan program for financial aid, legal services, campus-based student service centers, and enforcing that police or other enforcement not contact, detain, question, or arrest individuals based on suspected undocumented status.
When designing DACA, Napolitano said they had no real idea how many would end up being enrolled in the program.
“When we started, we didn’t know whether it would be 5,000 or 50,000. We just didn’t know,” said Napolitano. “It ended up being close to 800,000 DACA enrollees.”
President Trump rescinded DACA in September, leaving it up to Congress to pass a bill to save it by the deadline of March 5, 2018.
Shortly after on September 8, UC filed suit in federal court against the Trump administration.
“The basis is that they violated the administrative procedures act, and the due process clause of the constitution,” said Napolitano who became the only cabinet secretary to have filed a lawsuit against her successor.
Commenting on Trump’s decision, Napolitano said, “I think it is inconsistent with the law, it’s inconsistent with good immigration enforcement policy, and it’s inconsistent with our values as a country.
“To say I strongly disagree is too understated,” she added. “It’s really quite infuriating.”
Napolitano said that the case is slated to be heard in federal court in San Francisco on December 20, 2017.
“It’s been a very successful program and very popular because Americans as a whole recognize the value and talent that these young people bring,” said Napolitano.
As the year comes to an end, the university has had its fair share of issues to deal with. Just this month, results from an investigation prompted by a whistleblower accused Napolitano’s office of meddling in an April audit came in. No evidence was shown to put the office in trouble.
At Napolitano’s meeting with reporters on Tuesday, she shared a number of other efforts happening in the UC system.
In regards to student body information, Napolitano shared that 42 percent of UC students are first in their families to go to college. Out of the university’s faculty population, 900 faculty members were themselves the first in their family to attend college.
“From our first generation efforts, we want those students to see others who were once in their shoes, as possible role models,” said Napolitano.
As many universities across the U.S. have had to face issues surrounding sexual harassment and misconduct, the UC system was not exempt.
“We totally redid the framework for handling those cases, whether they involve students, or faculty, or staff. We reformed the way they’re investigated, they’re adjudicated, they’re sanctioned. We’ve put things on timelines,” said Napolitano.
“We’ve made clear that the complainant has access to what’s going on. We’ve provided survivors all with what we call a care advocate that provides counseling and other types of support. We have our first ever system-wide Title 9 officer. We’re now constituting a system-wide student advisory panel. I think we’re making some real progress,” she added.
Free speech has also been a big issue in the past couple of years. Controversial right-wing speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, for example, had been slated to speak at some campuses at the invitation of certain student groups. Many other students did not take it well — students at UC Berkeley particularly started headline-making protests.
“We’re actually standing up something we’re calling the National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement. It’s designed to sponsor research on free speech, particularly understanding what students understand free speech to be, what is their understanding of the first amendment, where did those understandings come from, what are best practices in terms of how campuses handle hate speech and at the same time, protect the values of inclusiveness and safety for students,” Napolitano said, adding that they were getting ready to appoint the center’s first group of research fellows.
Of course, Napolitano answered questions regarding the university’s efforts in maintaining its reputation as a research leader.
“We’ve always been at the cutting edge of research. There are new fields that are emerging all the time. And new types of jobs — jobs that we can’t even imagine today — will be jobs that emerge 10 years from now or 15 years from now,” said Napolitano.
“So that’s part of the challenge of the university — to be a premier research institution that actually is helping create that new knowledge on which those new jobs and new technologies will be based,” she added.
“We have a whole initiative dedicated to innovation and entrepreneurship. We do things from funding student competitions, to investing in our own companies that come out of UC-related research. There’s a lot of activity going on there.” (Rae Ann Varona/AJPress)