Students walked out of University of California President Janet Napolitano’s speech at the first-ever UC summit on undocumented students Thursday, protesting her former role as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
The summit, which was held in Oakland, brought together people from across the nation interested in immigration reform, including undocumented students, immigration advocates, researchers and government officials, said Shelly Meron, a UC spokeswoman. About 300 people registered for the summit, and more than 100 of them were students, she said.
When Napolitano entered the room to give her speech for the opening session of the summit, one student from each campus stood up and talked about a grievance they had regarding Napolitano. Some students talked about deportations of undocumented individuals that happened during Napolitano’s tenure as secretary of the DHS and others talked about the struggles that undocumented students face today.
After students stood up and talked about their concerns, they began leaving as part of a coordinated effort. By the end of the walkout, the room was nearly empty, said Francisco López-Flores, a fourth-year Chicana/o studies student who attended the summit.
Grecia Mondragon, a member of Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success, or IDEAS at UCLA, said students in immigration reform groups on various campuses coordinated the walkout before the event.
The schedule for the summit included speakers such as Tom Wong, an assistant political science professor at UC San Diego, and discussion groups covering a variety of topics. Some of the topics included career development for undocumented students, financial aid and immigration legal services.
Mondragon said in many of the discussion groups the students tried to create conversations between themselves and the speakers.
López-Flores said he is a bit suspicious of Napolitano’s intentions due to her prior role as secretary of the DHS.
“There’s a lot of suspicion and conjecture as to why Napolitano is holding something like this – we all know her track record as ‘deporter-in-chief,’ when she was at (the DHS),” he said.
In the past, many undocumented students at the UC have protested Napolitano’s role in the DHS, especially the fact that nearly 400,000 undocumented individuals were deported annually during her tenure, according to USA Today.
In response to student concerns over Napolitano’s former role in the DHS, Meron said Napolitano established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which defers the deportation of undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children. Meron added that as UC president, Napolitano committed $5 million to providing more resources for undocumented students, including financial aid.
Sofia Jacome, a member of IDEAS at UCLA and a fourth-year anthropology student, said she wishes the summit had addressed a wider variety of issues affecting undocumented individuals, instead of being limited to students.
“This summit tokenizes what people consider ‘good immigrants’ like undocumented students while characterizing undocumented individuals who do not have a college education as ‘bad immigrants,’” she said. “The summit should also address the issues of undocumented individuals who are not in college.”
Jacome said she thinks the UC could have been more transparent in how it invited students to the summit and more clear on the criteria it used in selecting students.
“When the Undocumented Student Program at UCLA contacted us, all they asked us was for our name and email,” she said. “We’re afraid that other communities like black immigrants or the queer community are left out.”
Meron said campus-level undocumented student coordinators and the UC Student Association nominated students to invite to the event, so she thinks that there was enough student input.
Ricardo Vazquez, a UCLA spokesman, said 17 students from UCLA were invited. The criteria used was to pick a diverse group of students who were knowledgable about the resources and services the university provides for undocumented students.
Mondragon said students will present their recommendations for improving resources for undocumented students at the university to Napolitano Friday.