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Can Janet Napolitano’s $5 Million Pledge Square Her With Immigrant-Rights Advocates?

| October 31, 2013
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University of California president Janet Napolitano announced Wednesday  she’ll spend $5 million dollars to help undocumented students succeed in the UC system. Napolitano made the pledge at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco yesterday.

Janet Napolitano speaks to the press in July as students protest her selection as president outside. (Photo by Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Janet Napolitano speaks to the press in July while students protest her selection as president. (Photo by Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Napolitano was relaxed and personable as she made her first public address as president. She said she has some big ideas for UC. And one of her first initiatives is to support undocumented students.

“Let me be clear. UC welcomes all students who qualify academically, whether they’re documented or undocumented,” she said.

UC’s undocumented students have been Napolitano’s toughest critics because of her tenure as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. Some have staged protests over her enforcement of controversial immigration policies. But now Napolitano says UC will set aside the $5 million to pay for special advisers, student service centers and financial aid for the system’s estimated undocumented population of 900.

“They do merit special attention,” she said. “Oftentimes they are from families who are very poor and first-generation, so have no one out there to talk to them about student life.”

It’s not clear whether the announcement will sway Napolitano’s critics on campuses, though. A handful of student governments have passed resolutions of ‘no confidence’ in her.

UC Berkeley student president DeeJay Pepito says Napolitano lacks experience and was selected without student input. “That’s not necessarily saying there is no hope, but I don’t really see her being able to reassure me as of right now that UC is going to be headed in a good direction.”

And at least one non-profit group advocating for immigration rights has come out discounting Napolitano’s $5 million pledge. Presente.org is an Latino online advocacy group based in California. Executive Director Arturo Carmona issued a statement Thursday saying the new money “hardly begins to reassure the undocumented, Latino and other student communities that Napolitano has changed her anti-immigrant ways … The $5 million doesn’t begin to heal the devastation and distrust,” among undocumented families.

Napolitano said she’s also setting aside $10 million to recruit more graduate students and to support postdoctoral fellows in their research work.

UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said that the $15 million that Napolitano pledged for the two new initiatives would not be funded from tuition or the university’s state-funded operating budget, but from reserves in accounts the system uses to help finance faculty mortgages and campus efficiency projects.

Napolitano also appeared on KQED Forum Thursday. She answered a question about undocumented students paying in-state tuition.

“The undocumented students who pay in-state tuition are Californians in all sense except they are undocumented …. They were brought here by others, usually they grew up here. They attended California schools all the way through. If they got into UC it means they were studying pretty hard and getting good grades. So I don’t see that as an unfairness.”

You can listen to the full segment and read a listener discussion on the issue of undocumented students here.

Jon Brooks, Amanda Stupi, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Listen to KQED education reporter Ana Tintocalis’ report:

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