© 2021 WKSU
Public Radio News for Northeast Ohio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

University Of California Pledges To Fight Trump On Immigration Policy


Last week the University of California announced that it will not cooperate with federal immigration agents and that it welcomes students, quote, "without regard to their immigration status." It's a move that could put the university directly in conflict with the Trump administration.


I spoke about this with Janet Napolitano. She's the president of the University of California. She also served as secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama. She says she made the announcement to help reassure students who don't have legal immigration status, which she estimates is around 4,000 undergraduates in the whole UC system.

JANET NAPOLITANO: Many of them are in DACA, which is the federal program which defers action for childhood arrivals. So what can we do to make sure these students can focus on their studies, go to class, whatever, without constantly looking over their shoulder to see whether there's an ICE agent ready to pick them up?

CORNISH: You mentioned ICE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Your school is saying that you won't let campus police help state or federal immigration investigators look into these students. You won't help with questioning or detention. You won't release records without a warrant.

Now, as the Department of Homeland Security secretary, you signed off on this program - DACA. So you know how the law works. Are you saying these are all the things that could happen to these students under a different administration?

NAPOLITANO: Possibly. I mean, and so what we're saying is, look, our campus police need to focus on things like campus safety. They're not adjunct immigration officers. And it would be a voluntary arrangement if we were to do something at the request of ICE. And we're just saying from the get go, no, that's not where our interests lie.

CORNISH: Now, the UC system gets federal funding for research and for students who get federal Pell Grants. Now what happens if the next administration threatens to withhold funding because of your approach here?

NAPOLITANO: Well, I would hope they wouldn't because as a matter of law that would be an overreach. There's lots of loose talk around there about threatening this and that. But one thing I'd pay attention to is what the president-elect has said are his priorities in immigration enforcement. And it's, you know, violent felons and gang members. And I will tell you if those are your priorities, then you don't need to be wandering around college campuses picking up kids.

CORNISH: Was this announcement a change in policy? Is it more about sending a message because the Obama administration also deported a record number of people.

NAPOLITANO: That's right. And I was secretary during that time and received a fair amount of criticism for that. But the question is who are you deporting? We were focused on deporting serious felons, gang members, those that we apprehended right near the border so that they were actually deported as opposed to just turned around and sent back. That was an effective strategy so that net immigration in the United States went way down under the Obama administration.

But you still have in our country these DREAMers, these young kids brought here, grew up here, went to school here. Under any rational set of priorities for immigration enforcement, they should be at the bottom.

CORNISH: There are people who are concerned that just being in this program - DACA - they've kind of outed themselves to the federal government and have worried about being tracked down, being on some kind of federal registry. Do you have any regrets about establishing this program?

NAPOLITANO: No. We were very clear from the outset that that could happen.

CORNISH: You're saying that was baked into the order in the first place so this was always a possibility?

NAPOLITANO: It was always a possibility. The documents all said this was being done by an exercise of executive power. And executive power could always be taken away.

CORNISH: But what's your response to a young person who maybe feels betrayed by their government - right? - who did everything right, as you said, and then took another step to have faith in the process and now - I don't know (laughter) - now that's being - it could be thrown away?

NAPOLITANO: Well, what I would say is first, they've had the advantage of the program for how many years. And we're going to fight for these students. It makes no good immigration policy to take young people raised here, brought here, contributing their talents here and somehow vault them to the top of the deportation list. That doesn't make any sense.

CORNISH: That's Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California and former Secretary of Homeland Security. Thank you for speaking with us.

NAPOLITANO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.