UC Students and Scholars Urge UC to Hire Undocumented Students Without Work Permits

A coalition of students have launched a new campaign, Opportunity for All, alongside a letter addressed to UC President Michael V. Drake, urging him to implement a system to hire undocumented students in UC campuses, under the premise and legal review of federal laws which they insist does not apply to the UC system. 

The letter asserts that the 1986 law, the Immigration Reform & Control Act, that made it illegal to hire undocumented people knowingly does not mention states, thereby making it inapplicable. Legal experts undersigning the letter have interpreted this so that the law does not bind state government entities — including the UC — since it falls out of line with past Supreme Court precedents that explicitly mention states in federal law. 

“Because the University of California is an arm of the state, it faces no legal restriction on hiring undocumented workers. This reading of the 1986 law has now been endorsed by [twenty-eight] of the most knowledgeable immigration law professors in the country,” the letter reads.

The letter has been signed by several prominent law professors from UCLA School of Law, UC Berkeley School of Law, and Stanford Law.

While it’s unclear whether the UC Regents will respond to this proposal, Chair of the UC Board of Regents Richard Leib told the Los Angeles Times that he is intrigued by the legal proposal, given that it is signed by notable scholars, such as UC Berkeley’s School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. 

“It’s a brand-new novel idea, and of course, I would love to do it if feasible,” Leib said. “But I want to review it closely, so it doesn’t have any unintended consequences and doesn’t end up hurting our undocumented students.”

The letter goes on to list several students with undocumented status who have either been offered campus positions or in one case, attempted to publish a book, however have been unable to do so. 

The proposal comes amidst new challenges to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) last month, with a federal appeals court ruling the program unlawful. The restrictive limits of DACA — which has not accepted new applicants since June 2021 and requires applicants to have entered the United States prior to June 15, 2007 — have made it so that many undocumented people remain without the proper permits to work legally.

Jeffry Umaña Muñoz, an undocumented junior UCLA student, told UCLA Law about the lack of options that come with being an undocumented student. 

“I turned down a full ride to Harvard because, at UCLA, I was promised that I was not my status, rather, just a student. And because of that, UCLA would provide me with resources and support me holistically,” Muñoz said. “The UC has failed to uphold that promise every single time since I matriculated. They have not supported me, let alone given me an equal opportunity to succeed.”

 “Some of the finest students in my career have been undocumented students, who have overcome tremendous obstacles to achieve higher education,” Director of the UCLA Labor Center Kent Wong told UCLA Law. “We would hire these students today if given permission by the University of California. Not only are our students being unfairly treated, but the university is also negatively impacted as it excludes the powerful work and input from thousands of undocumented students across its campuses.”

The UC Regents have defended undocumented students before when they filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to prevent the dissolution of DACA, in which they won the case in front of the Supreme Court. 

To read the full Opportunity for All letter, click here, and to view the sign-on letter of support, click here

The UCSD Guardian contacted the UCSD administration for a comment on this proposal and will update the article with their response. 

Art by Nicholas Regli for the UCSD Guardian.

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