Seth Ronquillo is a fourth-year film and linguistics major at UCLA. He is co-chair of IDEAs, a group for students in the country illegally.
Like many immigrant rights activists, he holds Janet Napolitano responsible for the increasing number of deportations during her tenure as Department of Homeland Security secretary. He calls her nomination to be head of the UC system "frustrating" and "scary."
"It shouldn't intimidate us. It should be a source of strength," Ronquillo said. "We know that as undocumented students, we worked hard to be here. Her track record shouldn't stop us."
Ronquillo, who came to the United States from the Philippines when he was 12, recently obtained a work permit and a two-year reprieve from deportation under the deferred action program enacted by President Obama last summer. But that does not allay his concerns about the Obama administration's immigration policies.
He hopes Napolitano will not stop the awarding of scholarships to students in the country illegally, often known as "Dreamers."
Sofia Campos, a recent UCLA graduate and former IDEAs co-chair, expressed similar views. She has younger siblings at UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara. All three grew up without legal status and recently obtained deferred action.
"I'm really worried that many people will feel less safe on UC campuses, given that she's had such a leading role in deporting over a million people, many of whom are not criminals, but family members," said Campos, who came to the U.S. from Peru when she was 6. "First and foremost, the UC should be a place of learning and teaching, a safe place where students can focus on those things. This sends a message contrary to that."
Ronquillo said his organization has not decided what action it will take against the nomination, which is expected to be confirmed by the UC Regents on Thursday.
A national Dreamers group called Dream Activist has started an online petition calling for a UC president who "values and educates all students, not one who deports them."
Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, called Napolitano's tenure at DHS an "unmitigated failure" and predicted she would face opposition in the state.
"We expect her arrival will be met with protests," Newman said in a statement. "UC should take the opportunity to thoroughly examine her record in Arizona and at DHS to see if it reflects the university's values before they confirm her to this important post."