Protests at UC Berkeley. (via Facebook)

Dozens of students at the University of California, Berkeley, blocked the school’s Sather Gate on the April 16 “Cal Day,” when prospective students visit the campus. The protest was held to draw attention to a $5 million fund originally set up to help undocumented students, set to expire in just a few months.

The Daily Californian reports:

Protesters, formed in tandem with campus organizations in support of undocumented students’ rights, chanted for both Napolitano and campus Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ resignation, interspersing their calls with the Spanish words for “we are fighting.”

The UC Office of the President currently allocates $5 million in emergency grant funding for undocumented students across the UC system — used for such purposes as funding food, textbooks and housing. The grants, however, are set to expire in June, and Napolitano has yet to renew the fund.

According to Juan Prieto, protest organizer and former Daily Californian layout designer, by eliminating this source of funding, services vital for campus undocumented students would be at risk … .

“They’re cutting our funding,” said Angelica Vargas, a campus junior. “Cutting that funding would make my existence at Cal impossible.”

The fund was unveiled in 2013 and was meant to provide undocumented students with greater access to UC resources—including vital services such as immigration attorneys, psychologists and a textbook rental system. Napolitano created the fund following accusations that her previous experience as the secretary of Homeland Security would seem threatening to undocumented students. Of the $5 million allocated in the fund, UC Berkeley received $660,000; $250,000 went to student services and $410,000 to financial aid.

Student protesters are hoping Napolitano will renew the funding, as it’s currently unclear whether her office intends to do so. Kate Moser, spokeswoman for the UC Office of the President, told The Daily Californian, “Supporting undocumented students has been a top priority for President Napolitano from her first days in office” and that funding proposals will not be determined until California Gov. Jerry Brown creates a final budget.

Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education (RISE) is one of the student groups active in the campus protests. Its president, Juan Prieto, recently spoke with The Tab:

It pains many students that the person who once signed laws which tore their families apart is now signing their diplomas. …

They are cutting our services, services essential to our existence and survival here, yet continue to promote ‘diversity’ on our campus. Given the high cost of rent and living in the Bay Area, undocumented students need this funding and now fear hunger, homelessness, and the inability to sustain themselves while attending university, should the services currently in existence dissipate.

Surprisingly, despite UC Berkeley’s activist history, many students were upset with the protests. “[I]t kind of hurts [the campus’s] image,” one prospective student told The Daily Californian. Asked about negative reactions from fellow students, Prieto remarked, “While they felt inconvenienced at that moment, we wanted them to realize the symbolism and purpose of our demonstration.”

Similar demonstrations have erupted at UCLA.

–Posted by Emma Niles

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