Between the Monday, Nov. 28 administrative Round Table, the circulation of a petition to designate the university a sanctuary campus, the demonstration of solidarity with undocumented students in the Quad Dec. 1 and governor Greg Abbott’s threat to cut off funding to public institutions in support of the sanctuary campus initiative, it has been a busy week for Texas State officials and students alike.
On Friday, Dec. 3, an official statement intending to address the petition was released by Student Body President Andrew Homann. The statement condemned violence and called for dialogue, and explained Student Government’s intention to not condone any action in opposition to the laws of the United States of America.
“Firstly, I want to say that we feel safety is the most important concern,” Homann said. “Every student, regardless of their beliefs and opinions, should feel that their life is being protected here on campus—that they’re safe to go to class and be active. And while we realize that, the responsibility of student government is to represent all of the student body, and we can’t go against laws in place that the state puts upon us. So, myself and the cabinet cannot at this time support the petition.”
The statement does not reflect the personal opinions of every individual member of Student Government’s legislature, just those of the cabinet and executive branch, Homann clarified.
“I think one of the things we’ve done is taken the initiative to be active,” Homann said of the importance of communication between government and constituents. “It’s easy to sit back and not respond to this at all, but it’s vital that elected officials voice their opinions on important topics, so we decided to speak out and release a statement.”
The statement was released in time to serve as a response, not only to the circulation of the sanctuary campus petition by organizations like SCOPE and LULAC, but also to comments made by Texas governor Greg Abbott via Twitter last Thursday. In the statements he declared his intention to cut off funding to universities that adopted sanctuary status.
“That may be a reality, but we’re going to push for what we believe in,” said LULAC president Julia Estrada about Abbott’s stance. “It’s important that donors to the university know—that everybody in the state of Texas should know—that we take our education very seriously, but we also take everybody else’s education very seriously. Everybody has the right to an education, no matter where you come from or where you’ve been.”
Although the statement made clear Student Government’s formal stance, the question of whether its release has successfully mitigated students’ fears remains unclear.
“I have known a couple of (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students, and right now they’re worried about what all this means, and what’s going on,” said Professor John Lopez from the school of music. “On the day after the elections, one of my students confided that (he or she) feel (his or her) future is at stake.”
Because undocumented people must voluntarily come forward to offer personal information such as names and addresses in order to register with the DACA program, many DACA students are concerned that such information could be used against them if the act is repealed, Lopez said.
“As a professor and a teacher, I feel really helpless and sad because these are very, very hardworking and incredible students, and now there might be a chance that their dreams may not be fulfilled,” Lopez said. “The whole point of DACA is trying to get undocumented students a social security number to create a pathway to help them fulfill their dreams. And it just takes a swipe of the pen in an executive order to make all of that come crashing down.”
Lopez said he has heard other faculty members voice similar concerns on behalf of their students.
“It’s just a really unfortunate situation, because in my experience the DACA students I’ve worked with have been some of the best students I have ever had in all my history of teaching,” Lopez said.
Since Lopez has been granted a sabbatical this semester, he was not on campus in the days immediately following the election. However, he later learned on the morning of Nov. 9, one of the music program’s mariachi students reported that she had been verbally harassed while walking through the Quad.
“She said another student followed her, yelling at her to go back to Mexico and telling her she’s not wanted here,” Lopez said. “I found out about it that night, and I broke my sabbatical to come out to campus and talk to my students. In all my 23 years of teaching, I have never, ever brought a conversation about politics into the classroom until then.”
Right now, the only thing he can tell his students is that many things said on the campaign trail will probably never happen, but all we can do is wait and see.
The coalition to make Texas State a sanctuary campus remains active at the university. However, another solution may be in the works.
“From what I understand, there is a piece of legislature that will be written, introduced and voted upon by the senate next semester (since we have adjourned for this semester), which is meant to address the same issues that the petition does, in some way,” Homann said. “We have had some brief talks with university administration, and they’re looking into specific parts of the petition and deciding what the best route for Texas State could be.”
According to Cutter Gonzalez, director of student services for the Student Government senate, the draft of legislation Homann was referring to actually pre-dates the arrival of the sanctuary campus petition by several months.
“Personally, I’m not a hardline staunch ‘build-a-wall’ person by any means, but I do recognize that there are legitimately passed laws and that’s what stands,” said Gonzalez. “Sanctuary campuses and cities are a gray area, and in my interpretation the idea behind them requires a violation of the law.”
Public institutions are state agencies chartered by the Texas legislature, and acting in defiance of federal immigration law initiates a conflict that could end badly for the university.
“Considering the status of our state’s legislature—it being very conservative currently—Texas State taking such a clearly opposed position is a threat to our institution,” Gonzalez said. “Also, being openly in support of the petition would be a dangerous stance for Texas State to take because it creates an unreliable precedent for future action.”
Gonzalez believes the Student Government cabinet did the right thing in releasing its Dec. 2 statement because of implications regarding state funding to the university.
“What really needs to happen is immigration reform, rather than violation of immigration law. I’ve pushed for legitimate reform, not disobedience,” Gonzalez said. “Among the senate there is a huge amount of concern for all students on this campus, and we want to make sure that what we do is adequate, that we actually do affect long-lasting change.”
The prevailing sentiment among the Student Government senate is that something should be done to assuage students’ concerns regarding the matter, but that the sanctuary campus petition is not the way to do it.
“This administration is about legitimate change that has a real effect, and doesn’t just look good on paper,” Gonzalez said. “I hope that students will come to me and work with me, so that I can help them have their voices heard. We want to bridge the disconnect between the legislature and everyday people, and organically make a change at Texas State.”
Members of Student Government’s Student Services Commission have pitched the idea of allocating funds to hire an immigration attorney to help DACA students obtain visas at reduced or no cost if they qualify.
“That’s the type of legitimate action we’re talking about,” Gonzalez said. “Something that makes real resources available to students, something they can truly utilize to their benefit.”
The basic underlying concept of the bill is to make arrangements for hiring a lawyer through the Attorney for Students Office. This measure is still in the works, and was initially proposed several months before the sanctuary campus petition began to gain traction.
“We want to hire an immigration attorney to provide DACA students with legal counsel and help them accomplish their goals,” Gonzalez said.
Although he does not speak for all of Student Government or its cabinet, Gonzalez said he projects that the initiative will do well in the senate.
“Student Government is made up of a variety of political opinions, but we’re all mostly on the same page when it comes to doing more for students from underrepresented populations,” Gonzalez said.
Whether or not the project will get off the ground is largely a matter of adjusting funds at the administrative level, Gonzalez said. It’s a question of whether the university can afford to hire a specialty purpose attorney. Alex Molina, Student Government senator, is working on the bill and helped co-author the sanctuary campus petition.
“I hope that the student population, especially the sanctuary campus people, recognize that Student Government does not disapprove of their intent,” Gonzalez said. “As an elected body and a chartered organization, we have to have a degree of legitimacy in all things we do; this administration takes that responsibility very seriously. We want students to come to us and help us work on other solutions.”
Gonzalez said that many senators are worried about coming across as being anti-immigrant, which is not the case. In reality, the aim of Student Government is to avoid adopting an over-simplified stance on such a complex issue.