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Students launch hunger strike, pressure UC Regents to hire undocumented students

Undocumented students protest the UC Regents at UC San Francisco. The students, representing the “Opportunity for All” campaign, launched a hunger strike on Tuesday calling on the regents to allow students without legal status to apply for on-campus jobs. (Courtesy of Hayley Burgess)

By Shaanth Kodialam

Jan. 23, 2024 2:13 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 23 at 11:50 p.m. 

Over a dozen student activists from across the UC system launched a hunger strike Tuesday, hoping to pressure the UC Board of Regents to follow through on its promises to open on-campus employment opportunities for the University’s nearly 4,000 students without legal status. 

The escalation is the latest development in the “Opportunity for All” campaign backed by progressive legal scholars and undocumented student organizers, which was launched in October 2022 at UCLA. It comes on the heels of other California initiatives to expand protections for individuals without legal status, including eligibility for state-provided health insurance and increased financial aid opportunities. 

The regents had previously signaled support for the campaign’s demands, voting unanimously in May to establish a working group that would publicize a potential pathway for implementation in November. That group missed its self-imposed deadline, with UC President Michael Drake announcing in November that the group would continue to study the issue given its complexity. 

[Related: UC Board of Regents fails to meet deadline for undocumented employment policy plan]. 

On Thursday at UC San Francisco, the regents will hold their first open session addressing the topic since November’s delay. The working group is set to publicly discuss the campaign’s demands around noon, with an amendment action item on the agenda regarding undocumented student employment that has garnered the attention of student activists. Specifics on what action might be taken remain to be seen. 

Following the publication of this article, a UCOP spokesperson pointed to new documentation on the regents’ agenda, which specifies that a recommendation by the working group could be forthcoming on Thursday.

“They [regents] haven’t provided extensive details on what that amendment might look like. That also feeds into our own sense of urgency,” said Jeffry Umaña Muñoz, a fourth-year student and organizer with the campaign who is participating in the hunger strike. “Even though the regents are the ones making the final decision, it will all depend on our ability to vocalize effectively to communicate our messaging.”

The complexities and potential roadblocks the regents are weighing remain unclear. Advocates have urged the UC to become the first in the nation to adopt their novel legal theory signed by legal scholars across the University, arguing that federal immigration law barring institutions from hiring individuals without legal status does not apply to state entities, including the UC. 

But the lengthy deliberations have not been without controversy, drawing backlash from conservative legal scholars and some Republican lawmakers who have said the theory is on shaky ground and will open up University officials to losing federal funding and litigation. 

The snags in the process have frustrated organizers across the system. Many students said they do not qualify for federal programs, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that help individuals without legal status receive authorization to apply for jobs in the United States. As students continue to take on extra jobs, turn to food pantries for assistance and search for creative ways to make rent, supporters of the campaign are now launching rallies, vigils and protests this week to pressure the regents to ensure quick implementation. 

In a sea of indigo shirts reading “Opportunity for All,” Umaña Muñoz and other strikers gathered outside the UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center on Tuesday afternoon. Calling upon the UC to ensure a swift implementation, they held signs with messages such as “Here to stay!” “I am somebody and I deserve full equality” and “UC Undoc Students United for Opportunity.” 

For every concern presented by University officials, campaign leaders have presented solutions, said Ahilan Arulanantham, faculty co-director for the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at UCLA. The movement has provided options and compromises for the University to adopt, whether they were concerning the legal theory, pushback from federal officials or potential litigation against HR officials, he added. Supporters also presented UC’s General Counsel with a plan for bureaucratic concerns back before November’s meeting. 

“It feels a little bit like they pose some problem, we solve it (and) they pose another problem,” Arulanantham said. “There just isn’t a commitment to solving this problem by a sufficient quantity of the leadership of the university.”

Hundreds of faculty members have also weighed in on the matter, writing to Drake on Monday that they are willing to aid in hiring undocumented students. Their letter was one potential solution to legal concerns about litigation facing hiring officials, Arulanantham said. A spokesperson for the regents did not immediately return a request for comment. 

A UC Office of the President spokesperson did not provide specifics or address the regents’ public session discussing equitable employment for undocumented students. However, he said in an emailed statement that the issue will be discussed in a prior closed session for regents to hear further updates from working group members. Karely Amaya Rios, a public policy graduate student and organizer with the campaign, told the Daily Bruin in November that two of the working group’s members had expressed support for the plan’s implementation by January.

The hunger strike is scheduled to end Thursday, but organizers will evaluate whether to continue depending on what the regents announce that day, campaign leaders said. A march and rally began Tuesday afternoon at UC Berkeley. 

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Shaanth Kodialam | News senior staff
Kodialam is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. They were previously the 2022-2023 features and student life editor and a 2021-2022 News reporter for national news and higher education and features and student life. They are a third-year communication and geography student.
Kodialam is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. They were previously the 2022-2023 features and student life editor and a 2021-2022 News reporter for national news and higher education and features and student life. They are a third-year communication and geography student.
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