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University Of California Takes Step Toward Allowing Undocumented Students To Have Campus Jobs

Woman with long, black hair seen from the back, speaks to a group of people at a table
UCLA student Karely Amaya speaks at a UC Regents meeting, in support of opening jobs to students who are undocumented.
(Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
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Regents for the University of California voted unanimously Thursday to create a working group that will decide the best path toward opening up jobs in the university system for students who are undocumented.

The step wasn’t a definitive action directing the university departments involved in hiring to take the step. But members of UC’s governing body said this laid the foundation. The working group will be made up of regents who will have to analyze the legal, political, and financial implications of such a shift in job eligibility.

“It is our intention to find a way to allow employment opportunities for all our students regardless of their immigration status,” said UC Regent Jose Hernandez.

Student activists witness vote

The vote was met with measured applause but no cheering by a couple of dozen UC student activists and legal scholars in the meeting room, who have been pushing UC to open jobs since last September.

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“I wish they would have just gone straight to full implementation,” said Carlos Alarcon, a UCLA graduate student who’s part of Undocumented Student-Led Network, a coalition of students from the UC campuses and legal scholars.

Alarcon and others in his group say Thursday’s vote is a victory nonetheless, because within eight months his group has been able to get the UC’s governing body to accept the idea that federal law may allow state agencies to employ people who are undocumented.

Last September, after researching the issue, a group of UCLA legal scholars issued a memo which argued that the United States’ current immigration law, first passed in 1986, explicitly prohibited federal agencies and private employers from employing people who are undocumented, but didn’t explicitly prohibit states and their agencies from doing so.

The scholars and a student activist group called on UC Regents to open university employment to students and others who are undocumented, though the regents had declined to take up the issue until this month.

People who are undocumented haven’t always been shut out of jobs

People without immigration authorization were allowed to work before 1986.

“For a century before 1986, federal law permitted employers to hire undocumented immigrants,” said Yale Law School’s Michael Wishnie in a 2007 paper titled Prohibiting the Employment of Unauthorized Immigrants: The Experiment Fails.

Acknowledging that immigration is a heated topic, UC Regents said a working group would help to iron out the details about how campuses will manage the change and protect the policy from legal challenges.

Two middle aged men in suits.
UC Regents Rich Leib (left) and John Perez speak in support of opening jobs for UC students who are undocumented.
(Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
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“This is too important to get wrong,” said UC Regent John Perez, a former state assembly speaker.

Perez and other regents did not say who they expected to attack the policy but recognized that its creation could influence agencies elsewhere in the country.

I would hope that at the end of the day. the university would recognize that there's never been anything… positive in the immigrants’ rights world that hasn't carried some risk of political backlash.
— Ahilan Arulanantham, UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy

“I would hope that at the end of the day,” said Ahilan Arulanantham of UCLA’s Center for Immigration Law and Policy, “the university would recognize that there's never been anything… positive in the immigrants’ rights world that hasn't carried some risk of political backlash.”

Undocumented students in other California colleges

Other higher education institutions are watching how UC crafts a policy that’s resistant to that backlash.

“We are monitoring [UC’s] discussion with great anticipation,” Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College Distsrict, said via email before the vote.

“LACCD enrolls more undocumented students than any community college district in the country, so the ability for our District to employ them would be a tremendous benefit to the individual and to our colleges,” he said.

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Adolfo Guzman-Lopez focuses on the stories of students trying to overcome academic and other challenges to stay in college — with the goal of creating a path to a better life.

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