UC President Janet Napolitano recently visited Mexico, but not for reasons you might expect. She spent a couple of days meeting with important figureheads from both Mexican universities as well as scientific and cultural organizations as a “testament to the strength of our relationship with Mexico,” she said.
With these visits, UC President Napolitano hopes to increase exchanges from the UC campuses and Mexican universities at all levels — undergraduate, graduate, faculty and researchers. In a statement released by her office, she said these collaborations are “integral to bettering lives on both sides of our national border.”
We might be quick to judge UC President Napolitano’s intentions as a means of blurring her past as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. Regardless of her intentions, their effects may be positive: improving California’s academic relationship with its closest international neighbor can only lead to a future of positive collaboration. However, it’s important to remember that there is a much bigger issue at hand: the immense discomfort over Napolitano’s appointment felt by the nearly 900 undocumented students who currently attend a UC school.
Let’s recall a bit of UC President Napolitano’s history, briefly. As the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013, her harsh immigration policies were met with criticism from both sides of the aisle. In the fiscal year of 2012 alone, more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants were deported — the majority for nonviolent transgressions such as the possession of drugs. Additionally, between the years 2010 and 2012, 204,810 people who said their children were U.S. citizens were deported.
With parents gone, these kids are left without guidance and they risk missing out on educational opportunities. As for undocumented students, they live in constant fear of having their families torn apart or being deported themselves. It’s no wonder Napolitano’s appointment as UC President makes students with undocumented family members and undocumented students uncomfortable.
Last October, in an attempt to make amends, UC President Napolitano allocated $5 million of non-state, non-tuition funds to provide student services, trained advisers and financial assistance specifically to undocumented students. She did so with the sentiment that the UC will remain a tool of “social mobility.” She also showed strong support for the DREAM Act in the past few years, an act which increases undocumented youths’ chances for citizenship after two years of military service or higher education.
This clearly hasn’t done much for her image. Within the UC system, rallies protesting for the resignation of Napolitano as UC President continue to occur across multiple campuses including our own — last quarter, protesters stayed overnight at Hahn Student Services to make a statement against her.
If UC President Napolitano wants to make UC a better environment for undocumented students or students who have connections with undocumented people in California, she needs to persist with efforts such as her visits to Mexico. Once is clearly not enough, and we at City on a Hill Press urge our president to continue with this mindset for the remainder of her time in office.