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Last week, the UC Regents confirmed Janet Napolitano’s nomination as the next president of the University of California (UC) system. This selection is historic: She will be the first female president of the UC system. It is also unusual: She has spent much of her career as a political appointee and an elected official, most recently as the head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The move from Homeland Security to the educational sector is alarming. As the former Homeland Security Secretary, Napolitano will strengthen longstanding ties between UC and the defense industry, a relationship that extends back to World War II and the development of the atomic bomb. Following 9/11, immigration has become the national security issue of our time. What does it mean for higher education that the president of California’s university system comes to us directly from law enforcement and anti-terrorism?
To be sure, as governor of Arizona, Napolitano had a strong record of support for public education. She enacted full-day kindergarten. She raised pay for K-12 teachers. Notably, she vetoed HB 2030, which would have barred undocumented students from paying in-state tuition, a policy that nonetheless was passed the following year. She also has been a vocal advocate of the DREAM Act, a bill that would grant undocumented students a conditional path to citizenship, but which has been languishing in Congress for more than a decade.
Yet, we cannot elide her legacy at the helm of the nation’s largest law enforcement agency and her role in deporting 400,000 undocumented immigrants a year. In fact, despite the counter-terrorism rhetoric of the DHS, most of the agency’s budget goes towards immigration law enforcement. The rate of deportations has been unprecedented: between 2009 and 2015 DHS will have deported over 2 million people – more in six years than all people deported before 1997. Ninety-eight percent of deportees are from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Napolitano is poised to head one of the world’s premier public universities–in California, home to the largest foreign-born population in the country and an estimated 40 percent of undocumented students in the nation. Three UC campuses are Hispanic-Serving Institutions, a federal designation that indicates 25 percent of full-time undergraduate enrollment is Hispanic. For many of these students, Napolitano’s legacy hits too close to home.
This administration’s new focus away from the border and to the interior of the country has led to an increase in the number of deportees who have family ties in the United States. Between July 1, 2010, and Sept. 30, 2012, nearly a quarter of all deportations—more than 200,000—involved parents with children who are U.S. citizens. California is home to thousands of mixed-status families who have been impacted by the dragnet of raids, detentions, and deportations that DHS has carried out.
As UC faculty, we personally know UC students whose parents and other family members have been deported as a direct consequence of DHS policies. Tearful students have sat in our offices wracked with worry over the potential deportation of family members – worry that overshadows their focus on their studies and hinders their ability to fully integrate into our campus communities. We wonder how UC Merced student “Laura” feels about Napolitano’s nomination. Laura has effectively been an orphan since her widowed father was deported when she was in tenth grade after being pulled over in a routine traffic stop. The deportation of undocumented immigrants after routine traffic stops escalated to unprecedented levels under Napolitano’s leadership.
We also wonder how this news is impacting student leaders whose dedicated advocacy shepherded passage of the California Dream Act (AB 130 and AB 131) and the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) directive. Some of their early reactions suggest they feel betrayed by a nomination that has offended students who are struggling for the civil rights of immigrant students and their families.
It is too early to tell what Napolitano’s impact on the university will be. We write as concerned faculty and call on Napolitano and the UC Regents and chancellors to remain steadfast in their support of our undocumented and DACA-mented students, and to follow their leadership in the fight towards justice for all.
Shannon Gleeson is associate professor of Latin American and Latino Studies at UC Santa Cruz.
Tanya Golash-Boza is an associate professor in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at UC Merced.