On Wednesday night, University of California President Janet Napolitano announced that the system would commit $5 million for financial aid and special counseling to undocumented college students enrolled at the UC system. The move is a swift departure from Napolitano’s role as Homeland Security Secretary, when she presided over an agency that deported nearly two million undocumented immigrants.
University officials estimate that the ten-campus university system has about 900 undocumented students, who make up 0.38 percent of the 239,000 total student population. The funds will solely come from extra reserves in discretionary accounts, like money used for faculty mortgages, rather than from tuition or state revenues.
This is not the first time that the UC system has provided financial support to its undocumented population. In 2012, UC Berkeley received the nation’s single largest gift for scholarships for its undocumented students. Recently, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) signed two laws that permit undocumented students to apply for state-funded financial aid andnon-state scholarships, but that kind of aid is often limited.
Napolitano’s $5 million commitment could be a huge incentive for undocumented immigrants to go on for higher education. The average tuition at the UC system is about $13,200, but after taking into account expenses like room and board, the annual estimated cost of college for in-state residents runs around $32,400. This is a huge economic burden for many undocumented families, whose annual median household income is $36,000.
Despite the olive branch to the undocumented population, immigrants have reason to be wary of Napolitano’s mixed record on immigration. As Homeland Secretary, she defended the Obama administration’s policy to give temporary legal presence to undocumented youths who were brought to the country as children. But at the same time, she assured immigrants that Homeland Security would mainly deport criminal immigrants and repeat border crossers, but many of the repeat border crossers were low-level offending parents who wanted to reunite with their U.S.-born children. Between 2010 to 2012, 205,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported.
Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Presente.org, the largest national Latino online advocacy organization in the country said in a statement on Thursday, “It’s an important step, but it hardly begins to reassure the undocumented, Latino and other student communities that Napolitano has changed her anti-immigrant ways since she oversaw unprecedented deportations across the country. $5 million doesn’t begin to heal the devastation, destruction and distrust that made Ms. Napolitano one of the single most destructive forces in immigrant life in California and in the entire United States.”