Posts Tagged ‘undocumented students’

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.”

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…)

‘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…)

Counting votes for the DREAM Act

Posted on: November 23rd, 2010 by The American Independent 4 Comments

The DREAM Act, a bill that would allow some undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to stay in the country legally, will come up for a vote as a standalone bill sometime before the end of the year, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). This is the last chance to pass the bill before Republicans take control of the House, but even with Democratic majorities, the bill could fail during the lame-duck session.

The problem: Reid doesn’t have sure support for the DREAM Act from all Democrats. One Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebr.) said this week he plans to vote against the bill if it is brought up this session.

“I’m not going to support any act that I don’t think adds to jobs, or military or to the economy. Consequently I won’t support any motion to proceed or any kind of cloture on the DREAM Act,” Nelson told Politico. “In addition, I think that has to be part of an overall comprehensive solution to immigration once we have the border secured, not until then.”

Of the eight Democrats who voted against the bill in 2007, when it was last brought for a vote, at least five said in September they were still uncertain. Spokesmen for Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) did not return calls for comment on the senators’ current positions on the bill.

The bill could still pass if it wins support from Republicans. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) agreed to cosponsor the bill, and Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), indicated he is likely to vote for the DREAM Act as a standalone bill.

“I support the DREAM Act as free standing legislation, but putting it in a bill that has a number of objectionable aspects is not something I support,” he said in a statement. “If Harry Reid brings it to the floor as a stand-alone bill, I will vote for it.”

Other Republicans, though, may be harder to persuade. Moderate Republicans are caught between lobbying by DREAM Activists — mostly undocumented students who have held numerous protests and sit-ins in support of the act — and pushes from Republican leadership to vote against the bill. Although the bill once had strong bipartisan support, previous Republican supporters such as Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have said they would vote against the bill this year.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, is circulating a memo decrying the DREAM Act as “amnesty” and claim it could double or triple the number of green cards distributed by allowing DREAM Act beneficiaries to petition for legal status for their family members. Other conservatives have criticized the bill for its age limits — which are explained in a blog post here — and claimed it would draw undocumented immigrants to the country.

Democrats hope to win over GOP senators such as Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and George LeMieux (R-Fla.) — all of whom indicated some support for the idea of the DREAM Act during debate over the defense authorization bill, which was filibustered in September. Spokesmen for Brown and Collins did not return calls for comment, but LeMieux seems almost certain to vote against the DREAM Act.

“While I am sympathetic to the students impacted by current law, I cannot support consideration of the DREAM Act until we have taken substantial and effective measures to secure our borders,” LeMieux said.

DC: Patrick promises immigrant-friendly reforms in Massachusetts

Posted on: November 17th, 2010 by The American Independent No Comments

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who won re-election earlier this month, announced yesterday that he hopes to use his next four years in office to pass a number of immigration reform measures, including driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and in-state tuition for undocumented students who attended high school in the state.

In total, he promised to implement 131 recommendations that were made in an administrative report last year on how legal and illegal immigrants could be better integrated into the state. But for some of the changes, including driver’s licenses and in-state tuition, Patrick said he would need Congress to pass immigration reform legislation — something that seems unlikely in the next couple of years.

“You can’t do it without some changes in federal law in both of those cases,’’ Patrick said. “Working with the federal government is the only way we’re going to be able to move those forward. But I still think they’re right.’’

It would be an uphill battle: Massachusetts passed a budget amendment in May explicitly banning in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, and the 1996 federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act states that undocumented immigrants cannot receive tuition benefits from the states.

But if Massachusetts scraps its ban, the state could feasibly pass a law allowing the benefits, as long as they also applied to citizens from other states who attended high school in Massachusetts for three years. Ten states already allow illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition if they meet other eligibility requirements, and California’s Supreme Court ruled in favor last week of in-state tuition for undocumented students as long as citizens were also eligible if they met certain guidelines.

Undocumented immigrants also have driving rights in other states, although there have been moves to restrict them. New Mexico and Washington allow illegal immigrants who live in the state to receive driver’s licenses, while Utah has driver’s privilege cards for non-citizens. Patrick said the state would first have to repeal the Real ID, a 2005 federal law that mandated strict criteria for driver’s licenses accepted for official federal purposes.

Some of the other changes Patrick said he would implement would not require as much legislative action. The New American Agenda, which was initially released last year, also called for more English classes, increased public transportation and better enforcement of wage theft. There are an estimated 130,000 to 200,000 illegal immigrants residing in Massachusetts, according to 2009 estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center, and about 1 million legal immigrants.

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/WEBN-TV)

DC: Obama states support for the DREAM Act during the lame duck

Posted on: November 16th, 2010 by The American Independent No Comments

President Obama reiterated his support for the DREAM Act during a meeting this afternoon with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), all of the pro-immigration reform Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Obama said he believes Congress should act on the issue before adjourning.

Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have signaled they hope to hold votes this session on the act, which would allow some undocumented young people to gain legal status if they attended college or served in the military for two years.

Politico has the full readout from the meeting, which also states Obama’s continued commitment to comprehensive immigration reform “at the earliest opportunity”:

“The President reiterated his support for fixing the broken immigration system and urged the CHC leaders to work to restore the bipartisan coalition backing comprehensive immigration reform. The President repeated his hope that, with the election season’s pressures past, Congressional Republicans would work with their Democratic colleagues not only to strengthen security at the nation’s borders, but also to restore responsibility and accountability to what everyone agrees is a broken immigration system. The President reiterated his strong support for bipartisan Congressional action on immigration reform at the earliest opportunity, noting that the American people expect both parties to work together to tackle the challenges confronting our nation.”

Obama has consistently stated his support for the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform. But with a likely tight vote ahead for the act in the Senate, Gutierrez said the president’s support is needed to ensure a united Democratic effort to pass the bill.

“With the White House, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and every Democratic Leader in the House and Senate pulling in the same direction, we can pass the DREAM Act before the end of the 111th Congress,” he said in a press release after the meeting.

Right now, it is unclear whether all Democrats would vote for the DREAM Act, which is a problem given the Republicans’ larger share of the Senate after the newly elected Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) takes Obama’s former seat. At least five Democrats who voted against the DREAM Act in 2007 told The Hill they are still uncertain on how they would vote this year, and only two Republicans have said they would vote for the act as a standalone bill. Reid needs at least 60 votes to prevent a Republican filibuster — the tactic that took down the effort to insert the DREAM Act and a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into the defense authorization bill in September.

(Photo: White House Flickr)

DC: High stakes for the DREAM Act in the lame duck

Posted on: November 16th, 2010 by Patrick Caldwell No Comments

As Congress begins the lame-duck session, both houses are under increasing pressure to pass the DREAM Act, a bill that would allow some undocumented young people to gain legal status by attending college or serving in the military. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who is retiring at the end of this session, called today for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to bring the bill up for a vote before the end of the year.

“Allowing undocumented students to attend primary and secondary schools but requiring that they pay out-of-state tuition for college creates an unfair financial burden that many, even very talented, students cannot overcome,” Diaz-Balart said in a press release. “We should stop hampering these deserving students’ educational opportunities due to the decisions of their parents and allow a vote on the American DREAM Act.”

I explain some of the votes up in the air in our preview of the lame-duck session today. Pelosi has said she hopes to call for a vote on the bill, as has Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). But so far, it’s unclear whether the Democratic leadership has the votes to pass the bill, with some members of the Democratic caucus likely to break with the party to vote against the bill.

For immigrant rights groups, the stakes are high: If the DREAM Act cannot pass with Democrat majorities in both the House and the Senate, it will almost certainly be delayed until at least 2013, when Democrats could again take control of Congress. Immigrant rights groups are stepping up their efforts by staging protests and lobbying politicians to vote for the bill.

One reason supporters want the bill passed this year, beyond the obvious desire to provide more immediate relief to undocumented immigrants, is to prevent further problems with the DREAM Act’s age constraints. The current bill would allow undocumented immigrants who had attended two years of college or served in the military for two years to gain legal status if they had a clean permanent record and were under the age of 35.

For some, that age sounds too high — people who are in their 30s may no longer be students, whom the bill is theoretically meant to help. But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chief sponsor of the bill, said in October he wants to help those the bill was initially aimed at when it first came up in 2001 — some of whom may now be reaching the upper age limits of the bill.

If the bill is delayed, future efforts could raise the upper age cutoff — at the risk of losing some votes — or would no longer benefit those immigrants, some of whom have been advocating for the bill for years.

(Photo: Detroit Free Press/ZUMApress.com)