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California vs. Trump: Angst in higher education

Students at a graduation ceremony at Santa Monica City College. (Photo: American Spirit, via Shutterstock)

In an effort to reassure thousands of worried young people, leaders of California’s enormous system of public and private higher education are setting it on a potential collision course with the incoming Trump Administration.

The California defiance has intensified and become more formalized since Donald Trump indicated he will appoint Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, an avowed hard-liner on immigration, as his attorney general.

Sessions has called for deporting millions of people who are in the country illegally. Although it probably would not be a top priority, Sessions’s deportation push might include California college students who lack legal permission to be in the country.

White also declared that the CSU would not co-operate with any federal authorities’ effort to deport undocumented CSU students

In a letter issued the morning after Trump won the presidency, University of California President Janet Napolitano and leaders of the UC system’s 10 campuses declared that they:

“ … remain absolutely committed to supporting all members of our community and adhering to UC’s Principles Against Intolerance … In light of yesterday’s election results, we know there is understandable consternation and uncertainty among members of the University of California community … The University of California is proud of being a diverse and welcoming place for students, faculty and staff with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.”

Napolitano also said she would form a task force charged with finding ways to help undocumented UC students.

Lt.  Gov. Gavin Newson has urged California colleges to become “sanctuary” campuses, defying any deportation moves by a Trump adminstration.

Timothy J. White, chancellor of the California State University system, reacted cautiously to the sanctuary idea:

“While I understand and deeply respect the sentiment behind this interest, we, as a public university cannot make that promise unilaterally,” White said in a statement. “The term ‘sanctuary’ has many interpretations and is in many contexts is ambiguous. If we were to use this term it would be misleading to the very people we support and serve.”

But White also declared that the CSU would not co-operate with any federal authorities’ effort to deport undocumented CSU students.

As director of homeland security in 2012, Napolitano herself was in charge of that protection as President Barack Obama’s homeland security director.

Meanwhile, the interim Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, Erik E. Skinner, also was cautious: “While the presidential election has been divisive and has sparked anxiety and uncertainty on our campuses, we will always embrace the values of inclusion and diversity and support all students …”

During his campaign, Trump pledged to rescind Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as part of his call for stricter enforcement of U.S. immigration laws. Among other things, DACA in some states allows undocumented young people to attend college and receive in-state tuition.

One-third of the 742,000 youths who receive DACA protection live in California; the California State University system has about 10,000 DACA students; UC has approximately 3,700. (Overall, the CSU has 470,000 students; UC has 238,000 and the 113 California Community Colleges have 2.1 million.)

As director of homeland security in 2012, Napolitano herself was in charge of that protection as President Barack Obama’s homeland security director.

Stanford will continue to provide services and support to our students without regard to their immigration status.

There is more anxiety in California because of the 742,000 young people who receive DACA protections, an estimated one-third live in in the Golden State. Last year, about 10,000 undocumented students attended college at a Cal State campus; some 3,700 attend UC.

Has California’s outspoken defiance of potential Trump Adminstration deportation moves caused an upsurge in student moves to choose the Golden State for college rather than other locales?

It’s too soon to tell, CSU and UC spokespersons told Capitol Weekly in separate emails.

“Our application period for freshman does not close until Nov. 30, UC’s Ricardo Vaszquez said. “Additionally, to our eternal chagrin, the majority of the applications come in in the last few days before the closing date, even though we tell students every year not to wait until the last minute. That makes it impossible for us to give you an answer. We won’t have an accurate application numbers until the beginning of the new year.’’

The No to Trump sentiment is not confined to the state’s system of public higher education.

Stanford University, for instance, had this to say: “To be clear, Stanford will continue to provide services and support to our students without regard to their immigration status. The university supports the ability of undocumented students to continue their studies at Stanford and earn a degree.

“Stanford has long supported the DREAM Act to enable undocumented students to attend our institution and apply for citizenship. Stanford also supports DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has allowed undocumented individuals who entered the United States as children to remain in the country without fear of deportation”.

But the statement also said: “On the other hand, under the law the university also cannot interfere with federal immigration agents in the lawful exercise of their duties.”

By Capitol Weekly’s count, at least 22 of California’s private college presidents, in addition to Stanford, have signed a statement that reads in part:

“To our country’s leaders we say that DACA should be upheld, continued, and expanded. We are prepared to meet with you to present our case. This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity. America needs talent – and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community. They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.”

The reaction by the Trump Administration, if there is to be one, will probably not come immediately.

But the line has been drawn.


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