The University of California has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Trump administration over its decision to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The lawsuit alleges the move violates the constitutional rights of thousands of students and is “nothing more than unreasoned executive whim.”
The current president of the UC system, Janet Napolitano, signed the order creating DACA in 2012, when she was Obama's secretary of Homeland Security. About 4,000 undocumented students — many of them DACA recipients — are enrolled in UC schools; that number does not include university researchers and health care providers who are DACA recipients. The largest number of DACA recipients (aka "dreamers") are at UCLA and UC Irvine. Tens of thousands more dreamers attend college in the Cal State and California Community Colleges systems.
“The university faces the loss of vital members of its community, students and employees," the lawsuit states. "It is hard to imagine a decision less reasoned, more damaging or undertaken with less care."
In all, there are an estimated 240,000 DACA recipients in California — nearly a third of the national total. Los Angeles has the largest concentration of DACA recipients in the country, with an estimated 100,000 in the greater metropolitan area. The DACA program allows dreamers to attend school lawfully, work lawfully, purchase homes, open bank accounts and live in the United States without the constant threat of deportation.
In a statement, Napolitano said:
“Neither I, nor the University of California, take the step of suing the federal government lightly, especially not the very agency that I led. It is imperative, however, that we stand up for these vital members of the UC community. They represent the best of who we are — hardworking, resilient and motivated high achievers. To arbitrarily and capriciously end the DACA program, which benefits our country as a whole, is not only unlawful, it is contrary to our national values and bad policy.”
Ninety-one percent of DACA recipients have found gainful employment, according to a study by the Center for American Progress and FWD.us.
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On Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said his office also is ready to sue to preserve DACA, a move that, like the UC litigation, could delay the cancellation of the program (which is set to end six months from now, per Trump's order). Becerra said at a press conference that his office is examining — in consultation with attorneys general from other states — possible violations of the right to due process in eliminating DACA benefits, as well as the possible discriminatory targeting of DACA recipients.
California education leaders have pledged to protect college students covered by DACA. Despite the Trump administration's decision, DACA recipients will continue to be eligible to pay in-state tuition, to receive state financial aid and to access free legal and support services on campus. Also, campus police are directed to refrain from questioning or detaining persons based on a suspicion that they're in the country illegally.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has proposed providing grants, fee waivers or reimbursements to undocumented students at California community colleges and state universities in exchange for service in their school or community. But there might be little the state can do to offset the damage of students no longer being able to work in the country legally, following the end of DACA.
The UC lawsuit asks the court to halt the Trump administration's repeal of DACA, which it argues in the legal complaint is “unconstitutional, unjust, and unlawful.”