Ainee Athar

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.

Daniel Olvera, President of the University Leadership Initiative (UIL) student organization, speaks to a group of students at a panel meeting addressing the DREAM Act and controversial issues in the immigration system.

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

The future of 600 undocumented students at UT remains in the hands of the national political system despite efforts to lobby for their naturalization by those who will be affected by any type of immigration reform.

Members of the University Leadership Initiative discussed the shift in political perspective of immigration and the progress that has been made towards successful reform through laws like the DREAM Act during a panel sponsored by Senior Fellows, the College of Communication’s honors program.

University Leadership Initiative, a student organization made up primarily of undocumented students, works to push for political support of a law that would put them on the road to becoming citizens.

House Bill 1403, the law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition in Texas, passed April 2001 with only two votes against it. Daniel Olvera, government senior and president of the ULI, said the passing of the bill was a step forward for immigrants, but social regard for immigration has changed for the worse since 9/11.

Olvera said he crossed the border from Mexico into what he now calls his country when he was 11 years old.

“The current political system has impacted undocumented students’ ability to pursue higher education,” he said. “We want to foster equality, and the solution is comprehensive immigration reform.”

The struggle for a good education begins after high school graduation for most undocumented students, said government junior Adrian Reyna.

Before coming to UT, Reyna applied to MIT and was waitlisted until he could prove he had the financial ability to pay for tuition at an international rate, he said. He was eventually denied the chance to attend.

“It’s important to shine a light on the narrative end of this struggle,” he said. “We hope our stories motivate others to make a difference — not just for the 600 undocumented students at UT or the 1600 students in Texas, but for the millions of individuals in the same situation.”

The immigration system is broken when 2.2 million individuals brought here as children are charged with breaking a law, said Ainee Athar, international relations senior.

Athar moved from Pakistan to the United States when she was two. Her parents were detained after a lawyer made a mistake in their asylum form.

“We need to introduce comprehensive immigration reform, but we know it will take the same political capital that it took to pass health care reform,” she said.

Athar said the Obama administration has been supportive of the struggles of undocumented immigrants, but the impending election is a serious concern to ULI. She said politicians are supporting “self-deportation” as a means for getting undocumented immigrants out of the country, claiming that if they make staying here difficult enough they will simply leave.

“When the word ‘self-deportation’ is thrown around by presidential candidates like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, the idea of denying basic rights to individuals becomes terrifying,” she said.