The Immigration Law Association and UC Davis School of Law held a conference on Oct. 11 called “Immigration Reform: What Next?” where two UC Davis students with personal experience in the matter were featured speakers.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed several bills that provide support to undocumented individuals in California. Accompanying this legislation were nationwide rallies in support of congressional immigration reform, widespread political debate and dialogue on university campuses with many students and faculty advocating for change.
In June, the Senate passed a federal reform bill and four bills have been approved by the House Judiciary Committee as a piecemeal response.
At UC Davis’ conference, faculty, researchers and representatives from the public and private sectors gave analyses of the current federal reform and their potential impacts on society.
Richard Boswell, professor of law and associate dean for Global Programs at the UC Hastings College of Law, voiced his concern at the immigration conference about the proposed House legislation and the importance of undocumented youth in social policy.
“We [in the US] have a way of thinking about immigration that is focused on security and criminalization and I think we need to shift that paradigm,” Boswell said in a speech. “I think we are beginning to see that shift by the discussions coming from young people talking about their stories and shifting the way we think about immigration so we are not just addressing our fears but addressing our hopes.”
Gov. Brown’s legislation this month included the TRUST Act (Assembly Bill 4) which limits local law enforcement from transferring detainees to federal immigration authorities. Other bills allow undocumented immigrants to attain driver licenses (AB 60) and become licensed attorneys (AB 1024). One also allows for the penalization of a business that threatens employees based on their immigration status (Senate Bill 666).
This discussion has now reached the Executive Branch as illustrated in President Barack Obama’s first weekly address since the government shutdown on Oct. 19. He alluded to immigration being his second priority of business.
“We should finish the job of fixing our broken immigration system,” President Obama said. “It would grow our economy. It would secure our borders. The Senate has already passed a bill with strong bipartisan support. Now the House should too.”
One of the speakers at the conference was Steven Li, a fourth-year Asian American studies major at UC Davis who was originally born in Lima, Peru. He spent 66 days incarcerated and faced potential deportation in 2010.
His family, friends and teachers from the City College of San Francisco, where he attended school at the time, rallied for his cause which eventually led to a private bill introduced by US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) which delayed his deportation.
Even though Li qualified for both this and subsequent state and federal assistance through the California Dream Act of 2011 as well as President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) of 2012, his parents, who were initially from China, and his sister did not qualify and were deported in 2011.
“Even if undocumented youth [receive] some type of legalization or protection from deportation, such as DACA, there is still stress knowing that their parents can be deported at any time,” Li said. “Immigration is an issue that affects all communities regardless of someone’s gender or race.”
Li has since been an active member of ASPIRE, one of the first nonprofit undocumented support organizations for Asian and Pacific Islander students in the nation, created to raise awareness for immigration reform and headed by the Asian Law Caucus of San Francisco.
Li also hopes to see changes for undocumented students in the UC system.
“We need more scholarships for undocumented students to be able to get into the UC system,” Li said. “We need a counselor who is here to help undocumented students navigate academically, socially and financially throughout the UC campuses.”
Another aspect of proposed immigration reform entails visa policies for non-resident STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) employees, and UC Davis student Amandeep Kaur, a Ph.D candidate in physics and graduate student assistant to the Chancellor, spoke on the matter.
“There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to international students,” Kaur said. “After I graduate, as the current system is right now, within 90 days I have to find a job or else I have to leave the country. It adds a lot of pressure on students who cannot find a job but know they could contribute to the American economy.”
Kaur was inspired last year to advocate for international graduate students as a member of the Chancellor’s Graduate and Professional Student Advisory Board.
According to current UC policy, international graduate students are made to advance to Ph.D candidacy within two years, rather than the three years that their permanent resident counterparts are allowed. Once advanced, however, international students are able to waive their non-resident tuition fee for three years.
Kaur, with the aid of other task forces and advisory board members, was able to acquire 800 student signatures and 100 letters from faculty to support her petition to expand the three year waiver.
As a result of public forums and a meeting with Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi in March, a startup fellowship fund of $250,000 from the Campus Central Fund was allocated for international students, who have exhausted their waiver but are continuing their studies, to help pay their tuition for two extra years.
From this experience of advocating for underrepresented communities on campus Kaur looks forward to playing a role in the government and working in education policy to encourage women to enroll in STEM majors.
“Coming from India and as a female, I’ve seen women struggle for their identity, and equality among men and women is one of my core values,” Kaur said. “My passion lies in leadership and service. I feel I am a part of this society and I want to give back to my community.”