Following the recent appointment of Janet Napolitano as the 20th UC president, a growing number of campus organizations and students involved with AB 540 and immigration-related issues have voiced their concerns.
Record numbers of undocumented immigrants were deported during Napolitano’s reign as the Secretary of Homeland Security, and immigration activist students fear that the AB 540 advocacy movement may now be hindered across the UC system.
Passed in California on Oct. 12, 2001, Assembly Bill 540 allows undocumented students who meet eligibility requirements to pay in-state tuition at California community colleges, state universities and UCs.
Only a week after meeting with approximately 25 student representatives at UC Davis, Napolitano publicly announced that she would allocate $5 million in financial aid and resources for undocumented students. The $5 million is to be divided between all the UCs, and each university will decide how their portion is used.
The meeting prior to her announcement took place on Oct. 24 at the UC Davis Welcome Center, and Ana Maciel, a second-year political science and Chicana/o studies major went to it, hopeful that Napolitano would address AB 540 needs. After the meeting concluded, she was still skeptical.
“We need [Napolitano’s] support. Coming from a background of Homeland Security, we are a little hesitant,” Maciel said.
As a first-generation and AB 540 college student, Maciel believes many AB 540 students are unaware of the resources available to them, as she herself had been unaware until she attended a presentation about AB 540 at a Chicana/o retreat.
Also an active member of SPEAK, a student-run organization focused on supporting undocumented students, Maciel strongly advocates for a campus center for them.
“We need a place on campus with paid staff who are specifically trained,” Maciel said. “We need a safe zone for AB 540 students.”
After becoming a representative of the California Dream Network, a statewide alliance of college campus organizations that seek to advance immigration reform, Maciel believes that their mission must be enacted at the federal level as well.
“We need to escalate and make sure that our demands are listened to and that they are actually acted upon by Napolitano,” Maciel said.
In terms of the overall structure of the meeting, Maciel stated that it could have been organized in a clearer, more effective manner.
Efrain Delgado, a third-year student majoring in environmental science and management and co-chair of SPEAK, shared Maciel’s opinion that the meeting was disorganized.
About two weeks before the meeting, Delgado received an email requesting him to call a specific number. Some time later, Delgado discovered that it was an invitation to the meeting.
“There was no way to find out who would be there [at the meeting],” Delgado said. “We were not able to find out the location and time over email either.”
After the student representatives met with Associate Vice Chancellor Milton Lang at the Alumni Center, they were sent to the Welcome Center to directly connect with Napolitano.
Once Napolitano introduced herself to the group, each student had the chance to address their own concerns or specific questions.
Other than Maciel and Delgado, the meeting included a wide variety of students ranging from undergraduate to graduate to law school students. While the students each came to the meeting with individual goals in mind, Maciel and Delgado said they all worked to gain Napolitano’s assistance in solving AB 540 issues.
“I talked to Napolitano about a budget for AB 540 for a resource center, but instead of saying yes, she asked me how to establish a center,” Delgado said. “She steered away from having to answer the question and didn’t commit herself to anything.”
Delgado said that he recommended UC Davis strive to establish a center similar to UC Berkeley’s Dreamers Resource Center.
After hearing the news about the $5 million pledge, both Maciel and Delgado had mixed feelings.
“At first, I was ecstatic that she has taken the initiative to make that one of her priorities in her first couple months as President of the UC system,” Maciel said. “However, after looking into how that money has been proposed to be distributed, I believe there should be more funds.”
Similarly, Delgado is unsure that Napolitano’s pledge will be sufficient enough to establish more resources on campus.
“It’s a start. With it being so early in her term it’s impossible to tell whether this was a genuine gesture from her or whether it was just something she did to tame the waters while she settles in,” Delgado said.
Adela de la Torre is the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, and Delgado said that she told him that the school is waiting for the students’ input before proceeding to use the money.
“Whether that’s true will be seen,” Delgado said. “And if what we are asking for in that proposal ends up getting funded by this mone.”
Currently, Delgado and other students are brainstorming a proposal that specifically addresses how the funds can be appropriated. Along with a resource center and trained staff, the proposal includes a request for state-funded work study and a low-cost housing program at UC Davis.
According to Maciel, one of the most challenging aspects in addressing AB 540-related issues is primarily due to the fact that the AB 540 community is left unacknowledged.
“People not only need to get informed, but [need to] know what AB 540 is,” Maciel said. “If you know what it is, you are able to comprehend the experience of others.”
Mayra Llamas, a contact for AB 540 students at the Student Recruitment and Retention Center, also believes that AB 540 is in need of dire clarification among the general population.
“We need to demystify AB 540 and its definition,” Llamas said.
In addition to redefining AB 540, Delgado believes that Napolitano can directly support students by continuing to deliberate with the AB 540 community.
“[Napolitano] shouldn’t let this $5 million donation be her last effort to help this community out,” Delgado said. “It can only do so much and with it not being sustainable for the future, the need for more work is still present.”