The University of California filed a lawsuit Friday against the Trump administration charging that the federal government’s efforts to eliminate an anti-deportation program for young immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States unconstitutionally violates the rights of the university and its students.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco against the Department of Homeland Security, would halt the Trump administration from rescinding the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on, as UC states, “nothing more than unreasoned executive whim.”
“At the University of California, we see the exceptional contributions that ‘Dreamers’ make every day,” UC President Janet Napolitano said on a conference call with reporters, referring to the nickname for DACA recipients. “They really represent the spirit of the American dream, and by its action, the administration has bashed those dreams.”
“The action tramples on the due process rights of the university and its students,” she added. “Those rights cannot be taken away by executive fiat.”
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As secretary of Homeland Security herself for four years under former President Barack Obama, Napolitano oversaw the creation of the DACA program in 2012 – as well as record deportations of more than 2.5 million immigrants. Her appointment as UC president in 2013 was heavily protested by immigrant rights advocates, though Napolitano has since helped create several campus programs, including financial aid and resource centers, for undocumented students.
Napolitano said UC has about 4,000 undocumented students, a substantial portion of whom are DACA recipients; some UC staff members also benefit under DACA. Shortly after President Donald Trump’s election last November, Napolitano jointly sent a letter urging him to protect the program.
“Yes, I have a keen interest in DACA,” she said, “but my keener interest is with the young people whose futures are now being put in doubt.”
UC’s lawsuit is being handled pro bono by Covington & Burling, the international law firm where former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is a partner. It argues that the Trump administration offers no reasoned basis for canceling DACA, instead pointing to the purported illegality of another anti-deportation program proposed by Obama, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, which was struck down in court.
“No court has ever held that DACA is illegal,” Napolitano said.
The university contends that the rescission should be set aside because it is procedurally invalid: a policy change affecting an entire class of people should have been subject to an administrative review process, including a public comment period for those affected to weigh in.
It further asserts that in rolling back the program, the government violated the U.S. Constitution “by failing to provide the university with any process before depriving it of the value of the public resources it invested in DACA recipients, and the benefits flowing from DACA recipients’ contributions to the university.”
Napolitano characterized it as an “interference” in the relationship: “They just add a dimension to our student body. Their loss would be very noticeable.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement Tuesday that DACA protections would end in six months hit home for many in California, which has more than a quarter of the nation’s nearly 800,000 Dreamers. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Wednesday that he is working on his own lawsuit, which is expected in the coming week.
“California will sue the Trump administration over its termination of the DACA program for one simple reason,” Becerra said. “Our state has become the world’s sixth largest economy due in part to the success of over 200,000 Dreamers whose livelihoods have been put at risk by President Trump’s wrong-headed decision on DACA.”