Credit: Courtesy of University of California
University of California President Janet Napolitano.

The University of California filed suit against the Trump administration on Friday, joining a growing legal backlash against the president’s decision to end protections for undocumented young people.

UC President Janet Napolitano, who was Secretary of Homeland Security when the protections were first enacted, filed suit in federal court to reverse Trump’s order to stop the program she helped write, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

“At the University of California, we see the exceptional contributions young dreamers make every day,” Napolitano said, referring to young people who came to the U.S. with their parents as children. “They really represent the spirit of the American dream. The Trump administration has dashed those dreams, but with this lawsuit we hope to restore those dreams.”

Napolitano and the UC Regents filed the suit in the Northern District of California against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its acting chief, Elaine Duke. The suit comes in addition to a suit California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also plans to file on behalf of DACA recipients. Sixteen other state attorneys general also have filed suit, and several private companies, including Microsoft and Amazon, have said they’d join the legal fight, as well.

UC’s suit claims that Trump’s move was not based on reasoned decision-making, did not follow the necessary procedures, and violated the university’s and DACA students’ right to due process. The suit, prepared pro bono by the San Francisco law firm Covington and Burling, seeks an immediate reversal of Trump’s decision.

An estimated 4,000 students in the 270,000-student University of California system are undocumented, and “a substantial number” of those are DACA recipients, Napolitano said. Young people are eligible for DACA if they’re over age 15 and have no felony or major misdemeanor convictions.

Enacted in 2012 under President Barack Obama, DACA allows young people to work legally in the U.S., and not be deported, for renewable, two-year periods. California’s public colleges and universities allow undocumented students to enroll and receive state financial aid, but DACA protections enable students to work — a crucial benefit for students struggling to support themselves and pay tuition.

The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the lawsuit.

About 73,000 students at UC, California State University and the state’s community colleges are undocumented, officials at those schools estimate. Overall, about 800,000 young people nationwide are protected by DACA.

Under Trump’s order, current DACA holders whose permits expire before March 5, 2018 will be able to renew their permits if they apply by Oct. 5. No new applications will be accepted.

DACA recipients also represent a significant portion of the California economy, Becerra said in announcing his lawsuit. They work in nearly every occupation, and replacing them would cost California businesses more than $1 billion in recruiting and training costs, he said.

UC’s lawsuit would impact DACA recipients nationwide, not just in California, Napolitano said. Although no other universities have yet joined UC’s suit, the leaders of CSU, California Community Colleges and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities joined Napolitano in sending protest letters to Congress over the DACA decision.

Napolitano said Friday that there was a personal element to her lawsuit. Among other things, the suit claims that the Trump administration did not provide sufficient legal justification for rescinding the program. Although U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions accused the Obama administration of much the same thing when enacting DACA, calling it “an end-around Congress,” Napolitano said the original DACA decision was based on thorough legal research and consultation with hundreds of people.

“On a personal basis, yes, I have a keen interest in DACA,” she said. “But my main interest is in the lives of these young people.”

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