Undocumented Students Describe Fears of Napolitano as New U.C. President

DREAMers concerned due to legacy Napolitano leaves behind at Homeland Security.

July 22, 2013— -- Ju Hong was studying political science at the University of California-Berkeley in 2010 when his family’s home was burglarized. The door was broken into pieces, the windows were shattered, computers and other expensive electronics were taken, and all of their important belongings were gone.

“My whole family was terrified. My first reaction was to call the police, but my mother stopped me because she was afraid of the fact that I could get deported,” Hong told ABC News/Univision. “The trauma is real, the fear and the pain that we felt was real and we’re still trying to recover.”

Hong was one of six demonstrators arrested last Thursday for interrupting a meeting where the University of California Board of Regents voted to approve Janet Napolitano’s nomination to become president of the 10-campus U.C. system. Napolitano is expected to take the U.C. system over in late September.

Hong, who was born in South Korea, says it was important for him to be at the board of regents vote because he’s been affected by policies that were set in place while Napolitano was Homeland Security secretary.

“On that day, we decided not to call the police — because of the anti-immigrant policies that Janet Napolitano championed,” Hong said.

Hong is referring a federal program set in place under Napolitano and the Obama administration called Secure Communities. The controversial program sends information from local jails to a joint database shared by the FBI and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. It was supposed to help identify and detain the most serious criminal offenders, but in practice it didn’t work out that way. Immigrants with no criminal records got caught up in the system. There have been multiple documented cases in which victims of domestic violence called local police for help, only to end up in deportation proceedings.

The U.C. regents' student representative, Cinthia Flores, cast the board's lone vote against Napolitano.

"She must remember that involvement with Secure Communities will cast a long shadow. I will not deny the pain and experiences of countless students and their families," said Flores, a U.C.-Irvine law student. "I know that their fear is real."


An estimated 619 undocumented students were studying in the U.C. system in the 2011-12 academic year. The U.C. Office of the President describes these students as "potentially undocumented," because they appear in their system with no identifiable documentation status.

The vast majority of potentially undocumented students, according to the report are Latinos, followed by Asians and Pacific Islanders. UCLA has the largest undocumented student population with 168 students identified in the report.

“Secure Communities is responsible for deporting some undocumented students, and to have [Napolitano] as the president of an educational institution that has a lot of undocumented students is frustrating,” explained Seth Ronquillo, an undocumented student currently studying film and linguistics at UCLA.

“How is a student whose parents were deported because of Secure Communities supposed to feel safe if they know that the U.C. president is someone responsible for implementing the program that got them deported?”

Ronquillo, who was born in the Philippines, also expressed frustration with Napolitano’s selection because he said it happened “quickly and secretly,” something several newspapers in California and U.C. professors have also complained about.

The soon-to-be former head of Homeland Security has admitted she comes to the U.C. system with little experience in the academic field. Her predecessor U.C. president, Mark Yudof, came after leading the university systems in Texas and Minnesota.

Napolitano’s mission as the president of the U.C. system will be to manage the university's fiscal and business operations, and she’ll spend a lot time lobbying for state and federal funds -- and perhaps for funding from private companies, as well.

Hong, the student who interrupted Napolitano’s vote, expressed some fears of where that money could come from.

“We’ve very afraid that a lot of the money will come from private prison systems or defense companies,” Hong said, speaking about institutions that keep many undocumented immigrants in detention. “There may be a lot of corporate interest providing funding to the U.C. system, and they’re going to want something in return; it could be research or other resources available to them, but there’s going to be a lot of politics.”

Last year, Napolitano testified before the Senate in support of the Dream Act and defended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. But students dismissed those actions and said Napolitano only backed those programs after President Obama announced his own support.

At Thursday’s hearing, reporters asked Napolitano how she would respond to the demonstrators who interrupted the meeting where regents were meeting to vote her in to office.

"I'd say to those students -- documented or undocumented -- that we welcome all students," Napolitano said. "We're in the business of education."