University of California to Challenge 1986 Law Prohibiting the Hiring of Illegal Aliens
FAIR Take | May 2023
Just two weeks ago, the Board of Regents for the University of California unanimously voted to pursue policies that would challenge the 1986 federal law prohibiting the employment of illegal aliens. According to the Los Angeles Times, which broke the story, the challenge would be staged by hiring illegal alien students.
According to the LA Times, the University’s Board of Regents – who are appointed by the Governor – has been under pressure to challenge the 1986 law (often called the employer sanctions law) since the government stopped accepting new DACA applications under President Trump. California is home to about 1 in 5 of the nation’s college students without legal authorization. About 44,000 students without DACA attend California colleges; approximately 4,000 of them attend the University of California.
Last October, as reported by The New York Times, illegal alien students from UCLA presented a letter to the University of California President Michael V. Drake formally proposing that the university system begin hiring illegal alien students for a range of jobs, including as research and teaching assistants and paid interns. “At the University of California, students who cannot access DACA are being systematically denied opportunities afforded to their classmates, including employment opportunities that would enhance the research, education, and public service mission of the university,” the letter said.
If the Board of Regents voted to permit, or otherwise directed managers to hire illegal aliens, doing so would directly violate Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act. That Section provides that “it is unlawful for a person or other entity to hire…for employment in the United States an alien knowing the alien is an unauthorized alien.” The same law defines an “unauthorized alien” as an alien who is not either: (A) an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence, or (B) authorized to be so employed by this chapter or by the federal government.
While not hiring illegal aliens yet, the Regents voted to form a working group to examine the issue, along with practical considerations about how to roll out the controversial policy. The working group is expected to complete its proposed plan by November. If the state moves forward, it is expected that it will begin hiring illegal alien students based on a “novel legal theory” developed by UCLA law scholars that Section 274A of the INA does not apply to the states, and thus it does not apply to the University of California as a state entity. [Readers should note that this theory has already been picked apart by our friends at the Center for Immigration Studies.]
After the vote, University President Michael V. Drake and Board of Regents Chair Rich Leib voiced their support for the policy change. “The University is committed to ensuring that all students, regardless of their immigration status, can pursue and attain a world-class UC education. This should include providing enriching student employment opportunities to all students,” they said in a joint statement.
The implications of the University of California authorizing the hiring of illegal aliens would no doubt be far-reaching. The University of California system is one of the largest university systems in the U.S. It is comprised of 10 campuses, five medical centers, and three affiliated national laboratories and has more than 280,000 students and 230,000 faculty and staff. Hiring illegal aliens would, first and foremost, undermine the opportunities and wages for Americans already living and working in California. Moreover, such a policy would likely be adopted by other state agencies, and could even set a precedent for states to follow, undermining the very reason Congress passed the employer sanction laws in 1986.