The University of California is moving toward employing undocumented students who lack work permits, teeing up a possible test of decades-old U.S. legal norms.
The UC Regents voted Thursday to create a working group that will explore hiring such workers and advise the board on a decision, which it expects to make by the end of November. The board took the vote after meeting for more than two hours behind closed doors with attorneys.
“I want to do the best we can for our students, but I also realized that it does take time,” said board Chair Richard Leib. “We have to go through and analyze and talk to everybody, and make sure we’re doing this the right way, so we have the best case forward.”
Allowing campuses to employ such workers could change thousands of students’ lives — and invoke a bevy of court challenges. The ten-campus system would be the first to openly skirt a law then-President Ronald Reagan signed in 1986 that banned employers from hiring people who lack federal work authorization.
A group of students and progressive legal scholars — led by UC law school deans and professors — have argued the Immigration Reform and Control Act does not apply to states. They’ve for months pressured the university’s governing board to allow campuses to hire undocumented students, who’ve been placed in a precarious position since a federal judge in 2021 blocked the Biden administration from approving new recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“The federal courts have consistently recognized that states have broad power to determine the appropriate qualifications for state positions, including qualifications related to immigration status,” the co-directors of the UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy wrote in a letter explaining their theory in September.
The prestigious university system of nearly 295,000 students already provides legal advice, financial aid and counseling to undocumented students. California’s Democratic-led Legislature has passed a series of laws since 2001 extending in-state tuition to more undocumented students and making it easier for them to apply for state financial aid, in sharp contrast to Republican-led states.
The latest move by a higher education system with international visibility could be emulated by other universities that market themselves as immigration sanctuaries.
Regent José Hernández said Thursday that UC leadership “identifies UC as a progressive leader in the higher education system. And it is my hope that other states, other education entities will soon follow with us.”
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