Tuesday night, the Student Government Assembly will take up and consider a revised version of AR 16, a resolution in support of Undocumented Students and Undocumented Longhorns Week. The resolution is coming to the table a bit late to support Undocumented Longhorns Week, which ended four days ago. But to be fair, the resolution encountered its share of controversy and frustration in the two weeks it has spent in SG’s hands, mainly because the resolution calls not only for the support of the week-long event, but also for SG to explicitly endorse specific state and federal legislation related to immigration reform. Despite being twice referred to the Legislative Affairs Committee, where it was revised and voted out both times, the legislation is in no way guaranteed to pass the assembly smoothly when it comes up for the second time on Tuesday night.
Many students might be tempted to disregard the arguments occurring over AR 16 as yet another internal SG squabble. But should they look closer, students would see that the arguments over the resolution are yet another example of when state and student politics collide, with one representing a smaller, and possibly predictive, mirror of the other.
The controversies over AR 16, come just weeks after the race for Texas lieutenant governor was consumed by an argument between the republican candidates about which of them had or had not consistently opposed in-state tuition for undocumented students. Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, for one, banked so heavily on opposing in-state tuition for undocumented students that he made it the subject of his first televised campaign ad.
The SG resolution in question, AR 16, doesn’t exclusively address the topic of in-state tuition, but it does call for SG’s continued support of HB 1403, the in-state tuition law passed by the Texas Legislature in 2001. That law, though signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry and endorsed by several republican candidates, has now become an easy target for conservatives in this state and others. If the behavior of our SG representatives, some of whom will inevitably enter Texas state government themselves, is to be taken as any indication, the controversy over in-state tuition for undocumented students isn’t going anywhere. And if students feel they have any stake at all in the argument, they’d be amiss to ignore the fate of AR 16.
Controversy wasn’t what Ainee Athar, an activist and an author of the legislation, anticipated when she first brought the resolution to SG. The resolution, which was introduced to the assembly on the Oct. 8, was intended to be an effort of general support and awareness, to, as Ainee put it, “let students know [Undocumented Longhorn’s week] was happening” and to affirm SG’s support for HB 1603 and comprehensive immigration reform.
It was the second aim of the legislation that garnered the most concern in the assembly, with some members saying that they felt supporting comprehensive immigration reform was beyond the scope of SG’s responsibilities to students, in that it confronted a national political issue in addition to a local one.
“There was a lot of debate about it because people thought that it took a very, very clear political statement — which it did,” Chris Jordan, a representative in the assembly who also works as a Daily Texan columnist, said of the legislation.
But as Jordan and Athar both pointed out to the Texan, SG hasn’t shied away from making political statements in the past — in addition to past legislation supporting affirmative action policies and in-state tuition for undocumented students, SG has twice supported a student-lead lobbying effort, Invest in Texas, that sends students to the Texas Capitol during legislative sessions to advocate on behalf of student issues. Ultimately, the only issue within SG’s purview is the governance structure of student government themselves, making it virtually impossible for SG or any legislative student organization to overstep their bounds.
“We can make hardline political views,” Jordan said “We’ve done it in the past. That’s not the controversial point. It’s whether or not that view is in line with what we want to be represented by Student Government.”
From Athar’s perspective, the updated version of the resolution, which changes some of the language in regards to support of federal immigration reform efforts but maintains the resolution’s support of HB 1603 and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, has already been robbed of some of its original intent.
“Honestly, what good is this resolution unless you’re willing to support a long term change for the students on your campus?” Athar said. “You can’t say you support people and then not support doing anything for those people. I think it was, honestly, an excuse to avoid dealing with whether or not they actually support immigration reform.”
In Tuesday’s vote, members of the assembly will have the choice to take an overtly political stance or to hedge their “No” votes with excuses about purview and appropriateness. But like Athar said, it is impossible to support undocumented students without supporting comprehensive immigration reform to address the problems confronted by said students. If assembly members support undocumented students, they should vote yes. If assembly members have qualms about the ethicality of immigration, then they should vote no. What they shouldn’t do is pay lip service to the idea of “support” while using parliamentary distractions and claims of politicization to avoid taking a stand on an issue crucial to the over 300 Longhorns who count themselves as undocumented.