California May Change Rules for Undocumented Immigrants Who Attend Select Universities

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: May 29, 2024

A massive vote will soon be underway that could change how many undocumented immigrants can attend select universities in California. On May 22, the California Assembly passed Bill 2586 to change access to state universities and colleges.

The bill would allow “equal access to employment opportunities” for all students on the campuses of the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and California Community Colleges (CCC).

Details of the Opportunity for All Act

The bill, also known as the Opportunity for All Act, will provide work authorization to more than 40,000 undocumented students. This change will allow many illegal immigrants who were granted access to the university system to begin working in California.

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Assemblymember David Alvares (D-San Diego) sponsored the act, which was introduced to provide work access to paid internships, work-study jobs, and student leadership positions in campus organizations.

California Is Known as a Safe Haven for Immigrants

The state of California has often been known as a safe space for immigrants who want to find a quicker pathway to becoming American citizens.

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The state’s population grew for the first time since 2019 due to the rapid influx of documented and undocumented immigrants.

The Act Will Allow Students To Support Themselves

The act has previously been recorded as a way to allow students who lack funds and resources to support themselves during their studies.

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In a statement to the press, Alvarez said, “America has always promised that if you work hard, you will have the opportunity to succeed,” and further went on to say that “These students have fulfilled their obligation and are ready to be our future teachers, scientists, doctors, and public servants. AB 2586 will provide them with the opportunity to work. Creating these pathways to secure employment is essential.”

More Than 45,000 Students To Be Granted Access To Work

As soon as the bill takes effect, roughly 45,000 students around the state of California will be granted immediate access to work. Most of the jobs that they will be seeking are related to their degrees or schools.

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The schools affected by the new decision are 10 UC schools, 23 Cal State universities and 116 community colleges.

California Officials Frustrated With Slow Federal Immigration Reform

In a statement to CalMatters, Alvarez claims that lawmakers in California ” wouldn’t have to do this if the federal government actually did their job and passed immigration reform.”

Democratic National Committee Maryland Election Eve Rally with President Joe Biden at Bowie State University Leonidas James Physical Education Complex at 1400 Jericho Park Road in Bowie MD

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Earlier in his tenure, Joe Biden promised to make sweeping changes to immigration laws.


Biden Has Delivered on Immigration Promise Multiple Times

The Biden Administration vowed to undo many of the harmful laws that his predecessor brought into effect. Biden’s more humane approach allowed him to reinstate the DACA Act (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), also known as “DREAMers.”

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His move to protect young people and children who were brought to the country undocumented by parents shows his dedication to changing the system. However, some California lawmakers say these changes are not enough.


Millions of Undocumented Immigrants Call California Home

In 2021, roughly 1.9 million immigrants lived in the Golden State. This number might seem large, but it’s an average compared to the 39.03 million people living in the state.

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The rate has actually decreased from 2.8 million undocumented immigrants living in the state in 2007. During this year, George W. Bush was in office; his Republican administration also had leniency on uncounted workers. They allowed temporary worker status for anyone who already held a job at the time.


Massive Waves of Immigrants Became Naturalized Citizens

In 2022, 54% of California immigrants became naturalized citizens, which is a legal process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

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The changes in policy show a dramatic disconnect between the policies enacted federally and on a state level.


Allowing Immigrants To Work Doesn’t Mean They Will Get Hired

Bill 2586 expressly prohibits colleges and universities from disqualifying students from being hired due to their status. However, the change will not mean that the students will receive any additional training to become qualified for the positions.

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In some cases, proof of documentation will still be required by federal law. In these cases, those students would be ineligible to be hired for those positions.


Lawmakers Argue That Students Should Be Working Regardless of Status

Alvarez took a hard stance with some of his colleagues at the UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy. They have argued that colleges and universities cannot prohibit students from working regardless of their immigration status.

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Laws like the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) have changed the rules that govern how universities can inform their own hiring decisions.


Lawmakers Argue That Universities Are Not Federal Institutions

The lawmakers from UCLA went on to argue that universities should make their own hiring decisions since the institutions are not governed by federal law.

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A memo written by faculty co-directors at UCLA’s Center for Immigration and Policy reads, “In short, when Congress passed IRCA, Congress did not curtail states’ historic power to determine the employment qualifications of state employees.”