Students will be welcome at the University of California no matter their immigration status, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said after being confirmed Thursday as the next president of the 10-campus UC system.
Napolitano will take the reins of UC in late September, earning an annual salary of $570,000 in addition to an annual car allowance of $8,916 and a one-time moving allowance of $142,500.
Her salary is $21,000 less than that of outgoing UC President Mark Yudof.
Regent Bonnie Reiss said that UC offered to match Yudof's salary but Napolitano wanted to make a statement by taking a lesser amount. As secretary of Homeland Security, she earns just under $200,000 a year.
Napolitano, a Democrat, was the governor and attorney general of Arizona before Obama tapped her for his Cabinet in 2009. In heading the Department of Homeland Security, Napolitano has been the face of U.S. immigration policy during a period when the government deported a record number of undocumented immigrants.
In her remarks to the board, she addressed critics who said her lack of an academic résumé makes her a poor choice to lead UC.
"I have not spent a career in academia," she said. "But, that said, I have spent 20 years in public service advocating for it."
Napolitano, 55, becomes the first woman to run UC in its 145-year history.
But it is her background in politics, and particularly her role overseeing the nation's immigration policy, that was the focus for most students who participated in Thursday's meeting.
Several students and immigration activists testified against Napolitano, saying her record on immigration makes her a bad fit for UC, which serves a diverse population including people who came to the country legally and illegally.
Students from Indonesia, Mexico and other countries told regents that Napolitano's policies had ripped their families apart with deportations.
"You cannot understand what it means to appoint Janet Napolitano for office until it gets to your dinner table, until you look into your mother's eyes and you see fear for her daughter. And she's asking herself if immigrant students of color are going to be safe at the university," UC Irvine student Andrea Gaspar said in addressing the regents.
Just after the governing board approved Napolitano's salary, a small group of protesters disrupted the meeting, temporarily putting it on hold as they chanted, "Undocumented is not a crime. Napolitano, this is not your time."
Six people were arrested, UC officials said, adding that they were cited and released.
Student regent Cinthia Flores voted against Napolitano's nomination, saying she has instilled fear in many immigrant homes.
"She must remember that her involvement with Secure Communities will cast a long shadow on her future endeavors. This divisive federal program has damaged dreams, limited access and produced insurmountable barriers to higher education for countless students and their families," said Flores, a law school student at UC Irvine.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who sits on the Board of Regents, said he was enthusiastic about Napolitano's leadership at UC, but that student concerns about her immigration record had touched him.
"I think we're lucky to have her, and I think she is going to do an exceptionally good job," he said. "And I think the concerns raised in this room have validity."
Gov. Jerry Brown is traveling in Europe and did not attend the meeting, but he expressed support for Napolitano after she was nominated for the post.
Napolitano held a brief meeting with the press after the regents meeting concluded. She was asked what she would say to students who are concerned about her involvement in deporting undocumented immigrants.
"I would say to those students, documented or undocumented, we welcome all students to the University of California. We are in the business of education," Napolitano said.
She added that she would continue pushing for a change in federal law known as the DREAM Act to prevent the deportation of students whose parents brought them to the country illegally.
"I will be an advocate in Sacramento. I will be an advocate in Washington, D.C.," she said.
"I will continue my advocacy not only for the DREAM Act but for comprehensive immigration reform. I want them to feel they have in me a leader who wants the University of California to be a welcoming place for them."
Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @laurelrosenhall.