On issues of concern to immigrants and our families, UC President Janet Napolitano is guilty of either serial hypocrisy or a troubling pattern of empty political grandstanding.
As Secretary of Homeland Security, she implemented former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has shielded 800,000 young people from deportation.
But during her DHS tenure, she also set new records every year in deportations, creating the so-called “Secure Communities” program that effectively turned local police and sheriffs across our country into Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Ironically, the only thing that Napolitano has helped secure is the divide between Dreamers and the rest of the undocumented population, allowing hardworking immigrants like UC employee Jesus Gutierrez to be deported and unjustly cast aside as lesser.
With such a mixed record, Napolitano’s eventual appointment as UC president with no prior academic experience predictably ignited a firestorm of controversy. As a savvy politician, she initially sought to quell it with a small commitment of financial support for undocumented students.
And absent a few tuition hikes in the name of preserving bloated executive salaries and recent revelations of a secret $175 million slush fund at UCOP, Napolitano has successfully made efforts to avoid publicly antagonizing immigrant students as a whole. However, the same cannot be said for immigrant workers.
Thousands of immigrants work full time at low-wage rates for private employers under contract with the university. As a recent state audit highlighted, these workers are paid far less than UC employees who perform the same jobs. They are usually denied health insurance and other benefits that are afforded to UC employees. Many face wage theft and other forms of employer abuse — like being paid under multiple names to avoid overtime laws. Some have been working under these conditions for as long as 20 years.
Janet Napolitano knows this, because these workers have been telling their stories — loudly — throughout her tenure.
Worse, she has effectively made relegating these workers to a permanent second class status at the UC system a priority.
For example, she has repeatedly and actively campaigned against legislation that would provide the UC system’s army of immigrant contract workers equal pay with UC employees who do the same job.
In struggling to defend a position so in conflict with the ideals of social mobility that the UC system professes to represent, Napolitano announced the so-called “Fair Wage-Fair Work” plan in 2015 — a system-wide policy that University of California said would provide its contract workers with a $15 per hour minimum wage by this year.
There were two fatal flaws with this plan. First, as the recent state audit showed, it falls far short of the standard of equal pay for equal work. Second, as the UC system’s own internal audits prove, the University hasn’t bothered to enforce it.
It was all just a PR stunt by a skilled political practitioner.
As proof, we needn’t look any further than UCLA, where the university is about to discard 80 mostly immigrant hospital contract workers just months after reporting that their employer was openly violating the UC system’s minimum wage policy. Now, these mostly full-time workers are demanding that UCLA insource them and honor their years of devoted service to patients. UCLA is refusing their demands.
In other words, even as she claims credit for Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals and sues the Trump Administration over some of its most virulently anti-immigrant policies, Janet Napolitano is effectively doing Donald Trump’s bidding at the UC system — turning a blind eye to the exploitation of immigrant contract workers on campus, and worse, actively opposing their aspirations for equal pay and a ladder out of poverty.
If hypocrisy is the art of contradiction, Napolitano’s recent bout with opportunistic grandstanding represents its performance.
But principles like fairness and equality are not situational. You are either for them or you are not.
Janet Napolitano is cynically trying to have it both ways. And in the state which represents America’s largest share of immigrant workers, that is simply unacceptable.