Posts Tagged ‘texas dream act’

Undocumented student loses campaign for student body president at Texas A&M

Posted on: February 29th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 2 Comments

Jose Luis Zelaya Campaigns for Texas A&M University Student Body President (Photo courtesy of Zelaya)

When the results of the Texas A&M University election for student body president (SBP) were finalized this morning, one candidate had already made an impact–even though he lost the election. Jose Luis Zelaya was a candidate for SBP for many different reasons, from improving student services to promoting access to higher education. However, he was not running for the reason that many people took notice of his campaign: Zelaya is an undocumented immigrant.

“I’m not running because I’m undocumented,” said Zelaya. “I’m running because I’m an Aggie.” Zelaya told the Texas Independent in an interview prior to the release of the election results that he was also running because of his involvement with student organizations on campus, where people often told him he should run. “A lot of people I talked to thought it would be a good idea if I ran, and said that I would represent A&M well.”

Zelaya’s campaign platform has focused on advocating for students and improving student communication with the administration and improving student services. “I think we can advocate for more access to higher education at the local, state and national level,” said Zelaya. “A significant part of my campaign is how can we get better food services, better transportation service, and other student services. I am concerned with the raising of student fees and tuition without feedback from students.”

Zelaya’s nine pages of position papers on issues include his stances on bettering communications between the student government, the faculty, and the students. He also wants to keep the university accountable to the students for how it is using student fees. Other issues include keeping the transition from the Big XII conference to the Southeastern Conference smooth, and ensuring that construction around campus and the renovation of the Memorial Student Center continue to go well.

Throughout the campaign, he says the vast majority of his interactions with students have been positive and his immigration status has not been a major concern. He has not faced much negativity during the campaign. “Personally there hasn’t been much, but online there have been comments,” said Zelaya. “There have been comments that I should be burned, set on fire and sent back to Mexico.” Zelaya was born in Honduras.

“The campaign has been great,” said Zelaya. “It has probably been one of the most beautiful things I have experienced.” Zelaya says that he has been able to use his personal story to connect with students, and help inspire them. “It has been a great experience getting to know the students and hearing their opinions and concerns. I had a student come up and say that he was going to withdraw from A&M, but after hearing the obstacles I have overcome he decided to stay at A&M.”

The campaign for SBP has received much more media coverage than is typical, and most of it has been driven by Zelaya’s immigration status. Zelaya tries to keep it in perspective, and use the exposure in a positive way. “The whole media thing is a great way to inspire people,” said Zelaya. “That eleven years ago I was homeless and now I’m in college – if the fact that I can go to college can inspire people, I think that can make an impact.”

While Zelaya has not focused on his immigration status during the campaign he has not been afraid to speak out on immigration issues. The Texas Independent previously reported Zelaya’s and another undocumented student’s story during Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s ill fated campaign for the Republican nomination for President.

Zelaya told his story of growing up in poverty and hardship with an abusive father. His brother died when he was just five years old, and their home was destroyed in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch. His mother fled her dangerous marriage in 2000, moving to the U.S. with his sister. A 45-day journey that began in Guatemala, brought him to the United Sates seeking to reunite with his family.

Zelaya was detained by the U.S. Border Patrol attempting to cross from Mexico, and his case slowly worked its way through the immigration system. So far, his application for political asylum has been denied, in part, he said, because the hurricane that destroyed his childhood home also took the medical and police records he’d need for his case. Today, he describes his immigration status as “frustrated.”

In all of the media coverage Zelaya is referred to as an “illegal” immigrant. Organizations like the Applied Research Center have campaigned to end the use of “the i-word,” saying that the “i-word” is a “racially charged slur used to dehumanize and discriminate against immigrants and people of color regardless of migratory status.”

Zelaya thinks that the use of “illegal” is an important issue. “Many people might say that illegal is politically correct,” said Zelaya. “During slavery the word “nigger” was also politically correct. There are certain words that hurt our society’s humanity. There are certain words that destroy an individual’s humanity. My status doesn’t define me.”

During the student election at Texas A&M, another student has gained media attention for attempting to be elected as the first female Yell Leader in the school’s history. Samantha Ketcham, who was profiled by the Wall Street Journal, has faced another type of obstacle in what is viewed as a male only tradition. But Zelaya sees her candidacy as another positive step forward for Texas A&M. “She doesn’t want to break tradition, she wants to start a tradition.”

During the campaign and in interviews with other media outlets, Zelaya has maintained that the focus of his campaign has not been about his immigration status and that his focus is on something bigger than himself. His focus has been on embracing all students at Texas A&M. “I think that we can unify campus,” said Zelaya. “We’re Aggies and that is the thing that unites us.”

When election results were announced early this morning, Zelaya did not receive enough votes to qualify for the runoff election. However, as Zelaya was fond of saying, “No matter the result, we’ve already won.”

Policy change to Texas DREAM Act likely to be approved by higher Ed board

Posted on: January 24th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 10 Comments

Texas Dream Alliance activist Jose Luis speaks during protest at the capitol.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will likely implement a policy change this week to the so-called Texas version of the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition while attending college in Texas. In a meeting scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 26, at the THECB offices in Austin, the board will likely approve new rules which govern the implementation of the law by colleges and universities.

Under the law undocumented students that sign an affidavit to pursue citizenship and otherwise qualify as a resident of the state are eligible for in-state tuition. In fiscal year 2010 colleges and universities in Texas reported that 16,476 students had filed affidavits. This represents about 1% of total enrollment at institutions of higher education in Texas, and about 12,000 of those students attend community colleges. The number of undocumented students in Texas colleges for fiscal year 2011 will likely be available later this spring after the numbers have been certified.

“There are two provisions that are going to be added to our rules,” said Dominic Chavez, the Senior Director of External Relations for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Chavez told the Texas Independent that the first policy change is one to make it clear that institutions are responsible for maintaining the affidavits that the students sign, and the second is to remind students of the obligation to seek legal status.

According to the new policy, which has been placed on the consent agenda for the meeting, institutions will be required to “retain the signed affidavits permanently, and to instruct students when they are admitted, annually while they are enrolled, and upon graduation of their obligation to apply for permanent resident status.” The new rules also call for the institutions to “refer students to the proper federal agency” for instructions on how to apply for legalized status. “This is a message saying that we take this thing very seriously, this is not just a piece of paper that they sign,” said Chavez.

According to Chavez, the policy change came in large measure due to the amount of public debate surrounding granting in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, specifically during the Republican presidential primary. “During the presidential election, when the dialog became so white hot, our board decided that there could be changes to the way the law is implemented,” said Chavez.

“One of the questions that comes up constantly was who controls these documents and who maintains these documents,” said Chavez. “There was a lot of disparity in the maintenance of these documents by institutions.” If the documents are not maintained according to the board’s policy there are not any penalties incurred by the institutions. “The worse thing that could happen would be a negative finding on an audit,” said Chavez.

Students themselves are not the focus of the policy changes, as Chavez explains that the board does not believe that they will have noncompliance from undocumented students. “These students know their status, and they know their situation very well,” said Chavez. Chavez acknowledges that without federal legislation, undocumented students may not be able to regularize their immigration status. “Ultimately this issue has to be addressed at the federal level,” he said.

Greisa Martinez, a Texas A&M graduate and DREAM activist, described the policy change as “simply pointless.” Martinez points to the problems that the new policy could cause by forcing institutions with little expertise on immigration issues to track the status of individual students. “Requiring institutions to handle a case-by-case scenario would prove inefficient, costly and could potentially delay the admission process of the student,” said Martinez. “Higher education institutions are not knowledgeable in immigration law and would not know how to approach a federal agency about a student’s situation without putting in peril their privacy. For institutions of higher education to handle this without prior training is in fact, an unfunded mandate.”

Sarah Palin gets lonely on sidelines, attacks Perry

Posted on: October 20th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

As if Rick Perry wasn’t taking enough flak from his fellow Republican candidates for president, he has to sit still for a rambling denunciation from none other than Sarah Palin who thinks it is just wrong to let undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges. (more…)

Without citizenship, Perry’s defense of in-state tuition for undocumented students falls flat

Posted on: October 13th, 2011 by Teddy Wilson 1 Comment

Rick Perry (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/eschipul)Texas Gov. Rick Perry has faced criticism from both GOP presidential primary opponents and activist groups for support for in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, but defended his position by saying the law helps provide opportunities for more meaningful employment, and a stronger workforce overall. (more…)

Undocumented Texas A&M students hope to reframe debate over ‘Texas DREAM Act’

Posted on: October 3rd, 2011 by Teddy Wilson 1 Comment

The Texas law offering in-state college tuition to undocumented immigrants has drawn instant criticism to Gov. Rick Perry in his presidential bid, even from some in Texas who, till recently, had been quiet about the whole thing. (more…)

‘Texas DREAM Act’ had support from Perry, nearly every other lawmaker in the state

Posted on: September 28th, 2011 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

In an August 2001 speech given during a border summit, Gov. Rick Perry delivered a stirring endorsement of a law that passed through the Texas Legislature earlier that year with bipartisan support: (more…)