Students and Lawyers Push California Universities to Hire Undocumented Students

LOS ANGELES – They attended school in the United States, spent their childhood in American neighborhoods and grew up as Americans in all but one respect – brought to the country by their undocumented parents when they were children, they have no legal authority to live in the United States.

The political and legal turmoil over the federal program that since 2012 has protected many of them from deportation, the Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals, has left thousands of so-called Dreamers – immigrants whose fate has at times won the sympathy of Democrats and Republicans alike — into legal limbo. Federal law makes it illegal to hire undocumented immigrants, and under the law, many of these young immigrants will transition from college to a life of underground jobs as nannies and construction workers.

Now, a coalition of undocumented student leaders and some of the nation’s top legal scholars are proposing that California, a state that has served as an incubator for progressive immigration policies, start employing undocumented students on all 10 campuses. from the University of California.

The proposal, which would almost certainly face significant political and legal challenges, calls on the state to challenge current interpretations of a 1986 federal immigration law that prohibits U.S. employers from hiring undocumented immigrants. But a new legal analysis written at the University of California, Los Angeles and reviewed at some of the nation’s top law schools argues that the law does not apply to states.

Supported by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of Law, University of California, Berkeley; Adam B. Cox of New York University Law School; and constitutional and immigration scholars at Cornell, Stanford and Yale, among other universities, the concept that those in the country might be illegally hired for state jobs could have implications for the California, where the UC system is the third-largest employer, and for the broader population of 11 million undocumented people who live in the United States.

Undocumented student leaders at UCLA will present a letter to University of California President Michael V. Drake on Wednesday formally proposing that the university system begin hiring undocumented students for a range of jobs, including as research and teaching and paid assistants. trainees.

“At the University of California, students who cannot access DACA are routinely denied opportunities for their classmates, including employment opportunities that would enhance the research, education, and service mission. public of the university,” the letter reads.

California, which has the largest population of undocumented immigrants in the country, has a history of resisting federal immigration controls, issuing driver’s licenses to all residents of the state, regardless of immigration status, and to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students. It recently became the first state to offer publicly funded health care to all low-income people. Several cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” that will not cooperate with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants simply because of their immigration status.

Hiring undocumented students would go further, most likely inviting legal challenges from opponents of immigration and opening the door to potential conflicts with the federal government. President Biden, however, had pledged to provide permanent DACA protections and the legal authorization to work that the program grants to more undocumented youth.

Congressional haggling over legislation to find a solution for the group has come to nothing for 20 years, and attempts by the Biden administration to shore up the DACA program have been stalled in court. Under recent court rulings, those already enrolled in DACA are allowed to retain its protections, but no new enrollments are allowed, creating a growing class of young immigrants, many of whom are now college-aged. who do not have the same rights as the aging Dreamers.

The class of young immigrants who grew up in the United States but are not eligible for DACA is growing at the rate of 100,000 people each year. California alone is home to over 44,000 undocumented students who cannot apply. Another 27,000 graduate from state high schools each year.

Ahilan Arulanantham, co-director of UCLA’s Center for Immigration Law and Policy, said he started hearing last year from professors about a problem that was growing with the increase in the number of students without papers without DACA protection – students who could not be paid to work as research assistants or in other jobs on campus.

Mr Arulanantham’s team had already concluded that the federal law against hiring undocumented people was not binding on the states, and they began holding listening sessions with academics across the country to test their reasoning .

Twenty-six experts agreed, concluding in a legal analysis released Wednesday with the students’ letter that when Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, it did not curtail the historic power of States determine who they could employ. The legal scholars also noted that the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that Congress lacks the power to regulate state governments in certain areas, such as employment, in the absence of “clear language”. to allow it.

“This proposal is hidden in plain sight,” Mr Arulanantham said. “For nearly 40 years, state entities thought they were bound by the federal ban on hiring undocumented students when, in fact, they were not.”

UCLA’s legal group quickly found support within the university community.

“Some of the best students in my career have been undocumented students. And yet, I cannot hire them as researchers or teaching assistants. This not only harms their education and career, but also negatively impacts on the university as a whole,” said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, a research department focused on organized labor and labor rights.

Among them is Karely Amaya, 22, an undocumented public policy graduate student and campaign organizer.

“We have a window of opportunity here. All these eminent jurists support us,” said Ms. Amaya, who was born in Mexico and has lived in the United States since she was 2 years old.

“I have a job offer on the table. If we win, I can get hired and cover my tuition,” she said in an interview. “In the meantime, I am barely surviving. I gather resources.

Offering students the opportunity to work for their university would not protect them from deportation or change their legal immigration status. And it’s too early to tell how the proposal will be received by the UC president, university chancellors and the Board of Regents, a governor-appointed body that oversees the system.

But Mr Arulanantham said the hope was that it would be adopted by all public universities in California and eventually in other states.

Student organizers said they plan to mobilize undocumented students on all 10 UC campuses to attend Board of Regents meetings and take the issue to the UC president’s staff. They said the campaign would also target local and state elected officials who could exert pressure on the UC leadership.

Given the continuing deadlock in Congress over DACA and other immigration laws, undocumented student leaders have said seeking solutions at the state level is their only viable strategy.

“What changes can we make as we continue to fight for a permanent solution? Says Jeffry Umana Muñoz, 20, an undocumented student leader who was brought to the United States from El Salvador when he was 2 years old.

After gaining admission to Harvard and Yale, in addition to UCLA, he chose the California school because he believed it would provide more support for undocumented students. But his educational experience would be diminished, he said, without the ability to work legally.

“Since we know DACA is coming to an end, Congress is not acting, and Biden will not take any meaningful action on immigration, this campaign came at the right time for us,” he said. .