The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Janet Napolitano has been confirmed as the new President of the University of California on 18 July 2013. This position comes with an annual salary of approximately $570,000, an increase of $370,000 over her salary at DHS. More importantly, her selection as the new UC President reflects not only a lack of experience with educational institutions, and a lack of transparency by the Regents, but a failure of the Regents to recognize the harm and terror inflicted on millions of families who continue to suffer the impact of a deportation and detention regime that increased during her tenure.
President Obama praised Napolitano for “taking steps to make our immigration system fairer and more consistent with our values.” But one wonders what these values are: Napolitano, after all, proposed the draconian “Secure Communities” program (popularly known as S-Comm). Originally S-Comm permitted communities to “opt-out” from collaboration between local state police agencies and federal immigration agents, but Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents reveal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deliberately misled state and local officials about the programs ostensibly non-compulsory nature, apparently to stem opposition. DHS insisted on mandatory collaboration, and the policy “churns roughly 400,000 detainees through 32,000 beds each year.” These detainees are routinely denied legal counsel and moved from state to state without notice. “While DHS has published a manual that sets forth standards for immigration detainees’ access to counsel, the manual is not binding.”
The concerns of local law enforcement appear to have been well founded: experts on the topic of immigration have identified an increase in insecurity in those communities that fear calling the police due to the S-Comm program. A lawsuit filed against the DHS during Napolitano’s tenure, identified the incarceration of lawful permanent residents, inconsistent conditions of confinement, substandard and abusive detention conditions, widespread detainee mistreatment, lack of training of ICE employees, and inadequate medical care that has led to numerous deaths, 33 of which occurred since the start of Napolitano's tenure at DHS. It is worrisome that these actions be celebrated as examples of “our values” by President Obama. It is even more alarming that this history would be welcomed by the Regents of the University of California, the leading public university system in the nation.
Moreover, Napolitano has overseen the privatization of detention centers and use of subcontracted guards. The privatization of detention centers has invited a rise in the number of detentions and increased periods of incarceration that include indefinite detention. Despite a decline in unauthorized border migration to a 40-year low, in 2011 ICE detained a record number of 429,000 immigrants. In 2012, investors in these prisons accrued $2 billion dollars of tax-payer money. Furthermore, Napolitano supports the security measures that will ensure the ongoing privatization of detention centers and direct profits to a burgeoning biometric industry. These measures, costing $46 billion dollars, are part of the current immigration bill under discussion in the House of Representatives.
Napolitano’s recent statements of support of the DREAM Act are contradicted by administrative actions she has taken as the head of the Department of Homeland Security: the broad scope of prosecutorial discretion regarding deferred action, an ongoing culture that maximizes arrest rates, and limitations on the right to legal counsel. The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild argues that limits on prosecutorial discretion for deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) (which may include rejecting applications for infractions such as possession of one marijuana cigarette) remain weak. Additionally, ICE requires DACA applications by individuals in immigration detention to contact adeportation officer or the ICE Office of the Public Advocate, but ignores that this office was defunded in March 2013. Revelations of bonus programs that award thousands of dollars to border agents (incentives that invite harassment and intimidation) for increased arrests irrespective of legal status and ongoing limitations on access to counsel throughout DHS raise questions on ICE’s ability to fairly process DACA applications. This concern is compounded following a federal district court ruling this month involving a FOIA suit regarding noncitizens’ access to counsel in interactions with ICE that resulted in hundreds of redacted pages by the agency, which reveals a lack of transparency in the DHS. Napolitano’s systematic denial of the legal right to counsel, abuses by ICE personnel, and an “ongoing culture of secrecy” may very well impede information regarding DACA applications and thereby dilute the DREAM Act.
Immigrant youth, or “DREAMers,” who have participated in mobilizations for equitable access to education and immigration reform have pressured President Obama into instituting Deferred Action; a new Executive Order that allows students, youth and ex-military who meet certain eligibility requirements for a two year amnesty from deportations. Thanks to their efforts, approximately two million undocumented youth who attended school in the U.S. may be eligible for naturalization upon passage of the immigration reform bill. These “DREAMers” members of immigrant communities that have sacrificed to improve the lives of their children, who have also sacrificed in meeting and exceeding their obligations as students, have pressured Obama into supporting an amnesty as part of the new immigration reform bill, but now will have to confront someone who has created a noxious environment for their families and communities in the pursuit of their academic dreams.
At a time when the Latino/a population will comprise a plurality of California in 2014 and the rate of Latino/a high school graduates pursuing higher education (69%) that surpasses whites (67%) nationally, the confirmation of Napolitano as the next UC President risks Latino/a gains, especially among first generation college students with significant proportions of the undocumented. The appointment of Janet Napolitano sends at best a mixed message to “DREAMers” about the commitments of the next UC president, who spent the last five years focused on hard-line implementation of security laws rather than on educational advancement, and threatens the mandate to public education across the nation.