University of California sues Trump administration over DACA

The University of California on Friday sued against the Trump administration for “wrongly and unconstitutionally” violating the rights of the university system and its students by rescinding the DACA program on “nothing more than unreasoned executive whim.”

It’s the first university in the country to sue Trump over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, joining 15 states who have filed similar suits this week.

Interestingly, the plaintiff in this suit -- UC president Janet Napolitano -- created the DACA program in 2012 during her term as secretary of the Department of Homeland, the agency she is now taking on in U.S. District Court of Northern California.

“Neither I, nor the University of California, take the step of suing the federal government lightly, especially not the very agency that I led,” Napolitano said. “It is imperative, however, that we stand up for these vital members of the UC community. To arbitrarily and capriciously end the DACA program, which benefits our country as a whole, is not only unlawful, it is contrary to our national values and bad policy.”

She also told reporters that, in her mind, there is no conflict of interest in spearheading an effort to halt the end of a program she helped create. “There’s absolutely no conflict or thought of recusal,” she said.

Napolitano’s move carries national implications and is not limited to California Dreamers.  Her bold action comes three days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration was rescinding the DACA program, stating that it was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”

As early as March, officials said, some of the undocumented young people brought to the United States illegally as children who qualify for the program will become eligible for deportation. The five-year-old policy allows them to remain without fear of immediate removal from the country and gives them the right to work legally.

"To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. That is an open border policy and the American people have rightly rejected it," Sessions said. "Therefore, the nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we admit each year and that means all cannot be accepted.

Specifically, the University of California and Napolitano are challenging what they say is the administration’s unlawful decision and they are filing a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief alleging the Trump administration is violating the Fifth Amendment.

In a phone call with reporters on Friday, Napolitano explained that the decision to rescind DACA violates constitutional law.  

“I think the administration’s approach was the opposite of reasoned decision making and thus is unlawful,” Napolitano said. “In addition, the administration failed to comply with necessary procedures.”

DACA allows nearly 800,000 undocumented young people legally live, work and study in the United States. Those protected underwent a “rigorous application and review process,” Napolitano outlined in her suit. The UC system has approximately 4,000 undocumented students, with a substantial amount being DACA recipients.

“These students bring enormous talent and energy to our system,” Napolitano said. “They’ve succeeded academically and managed to get into the UC, which is not easy to do. They add a dimension and their loss would be very noticeable.”

But if the DACA program is ended, Mitzia Martinez, a student at Cal, is one of the students the system might lose.

Earlier this week, she spoke with KTVU, and said she had originally planned to go to law school but now, “those plans are tentative, I don’t know if I can get full-time employment after I graduate.”

DACA was not initiated by a presidential order. It was issued by an order from Napolitano during President Obama’s era. So far, Napolitano has not spoken with members of Congress, but has sent a letter to congressional leadership and the Californian delegation to support her.

She said she hopes UC isn’t the only educational entity to take on Trump and her personal involvement on this issue shouldn’t be the only motivating factor. She hopes other universities join in. “On a personal basis, yes, I have a keen interest in DACA. But my primary interests lies in the interest of the young people’s future. The rights of students cannot be taken away by executive fiat.”