Ahilan Arulanantham, co-director of the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at U.C.L.A., said he began hearing last year from faculty about a worsening problem with the increase in the number of undocumented students without DACA protections — students who could not be paid to work as research assistants or in other campus jobs.

Mr. Arulanantham’s team had already concluded that the federal law against hiring undocumented people did not bind states, and they began holding listening sessions with scholars across the country to vet their reasoning.

Twenty-six experts agreed, concluding in a legal analysis being released with the students’ letter on Wednesday that when Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, it did not curtail the states’ historic power to determine whom they could employ. The legal scholars also noted that the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that Congress has no power to regulate state governments in certain areas, such as employment, absent “clear language” to allow it.

“This proposal has been hiding in plain sight,” Mr. Arulanantham said. “For nearly 40 years, state entities thought they were bound by the federal prohibition against hiring undocumented students when, in fact, they were not.”

The U.C.L.A. legal group quickly found support from within the university community.

“Some of the finest students in my career have been undocumented students. And yet I can’t hire them as researchers or teaching assistants. This is not only detrimental to their education and career, but it negatively impacts the university as a whole,” said Kent Wong, director of the U.C.L.A. Labor Center, a research department focused on organized labor and labor rights.

Among them is Karely Amaya, 22, a graduate student in public policy who is undocumented and among the organizers of the campaign.

“We have a window of opportunity here. All of these prominent legal scholars are backing us up,” said Ms. Amaya, who was born in Mexico and has been in the United States since she was 2.

“I have a job offer on the table. If we win, I can get hired and have my tuition covered,” she said in an interview. “In the meantime, I’m barely surviving. I’m patching together resources.”

Offering students the ability to work for their universities would not provide protection from deportation or change their legal immigration status. And it is too early to tell how the proposal will be received by the U.C. president, individual university chancellors and the Board of Regents, a governor-appointed body that oversees the system.

But Mr. Arulanantham said that the hope was that it would be embraced by all the public universities in California and, ultimately, in other states.

The student organizers said they planned to mobilize undocumented students on all 10 U.C. campuses to attend meetings of the Board of Regents and push the issue with the U.C. president’s staff. They said the campaign would also target local and state elected officials who could exert pressure on the U.C. leadership.

Given the persistent gridlock in Congress over DACA and other immigration legislation, undocumented student leaders said that seeking solutions at the state level was their only viable strategy.

“What are the changes we can make while we continue to fight for a permanent solution?” said Jeffry Umaña Muñoz, 20, an undocumented student leader who was brought to the United States from El Salvador at the age of 2.

After he gained admission to Harvard and Yale, in addition to U.C.L.A., he chose the California school because he felt it would offer more support for undocumented students. But his educational experience would be diminished, he said, without the ability to legally work.

“Since we know DACA is headed to an end, Congress isn’t acting and Biden won’t take any meaningful action on immigration, this campaign came at the right moment for us,” he said.

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