College students standing in front of an office building at night with O4ALL written in lights on the sidewalk.

UC Regents suspend action on hiring undocumented students, defer vote for a year

Coral del Mar Murphy-Marcos

Last week, the UC Regents suspended for one year a proposal to allow undocumented students to be employed in campus jobs. The announcement comes after months of protests and a hunger strike by over 20 students.

“We have concluded that the proposed legal pathway is not viable at this time,” said UC President Michael Drake in a statement. He said the proposal “carries significant risk for the institution and for those we serve.”

The news left students reeling, like Ivette Contreras, who traveled from her campus in Santa Barbara to Oakland to join a rainy night vigil in front of the UC president’s office on the eve of the Regents’ vote.

“Inflation is a big thing right now and I can’t afford my monthly expenses just with scholarship money because, at the end of the day, that funds my education, not my necessities,” said Contreras, a 21-year-old undocumented student.

The decision to defer the proposal also disappointed students in the Undocumented Student-Led Network, which pushed for the UC reforms.

“They think it is too risky when our not being able to survive is a lot riskier,” said Diana Ortiz Aguilar, an undocumented UC Berkeley undergraduate.

Last May, the Regents established a working group to craft a plan by the end of November 2023, but that didn’t happen. The Regents announced at the time that they had failed to establish a work authorization plan, and no new deadline for doing so was established.

The working group included Drake, legal representatives, and advocates with the student-led Opportunity for All campaign.

“As new information becomes available, we will evaluate that information, and if appropriate, move ahead,” Drake said.

The Opportunity for All campaign points to legal scholars who say that federal employment and immigration laws do not apply to state entities, including public universities like the University of California.

College students standing in front of an office building at night with O4ALL written in lights on the sidewalk.
In a candlelight vigil January 24, 2024, students gather in front of the UC President’s Office to demand a proposal that would allow undocumented students to be employed in campus jobs.

At the candlelight vigil on Wednesday, undocumented students wearing purple T-shirts bearing the campaign’s name shared their stories of growing up in immigrant families and the hardships they have faced throughout their college experience.

Students drove from several UC campuses, including Irvine and Los Angeles, to participate in several days of demonstrations leading up to the Regents meeting. Earlier last week, students marched from the Berkeley Campanile to Sproul Hall. Students and faculty were encouraged to sign up for public comment to express support for the campaign during the Regents’ meetings, which were held between January 23-25.

About 4,000 UC students could be allowed to gain employment in the University system if the Regents propose and approve a policy next year. Existing policy states that the University is “committed to providing equitable access to quality higher education for all of its students regardless of immigration status.”