What effect should an undocumented student's immigration status have on his ability to hold leadership positions at their university? Although most members of the Student Senate at Texas A&M would not have phrased the question in that way, they essentially put that very issue to a vote this evening -- and the result was disappointing. After two meetings and an onslaught of impassioned debate, the Texas A&M Student Senate voted not to confirm Jose Luis Zelaya as the new Vice President of Diversity.
Zelaya came to the United States legally after being injured by gang violence in his home country of Honduras at the age of 14. He attempted to gain political asylum but was denied, and chose to remain here illegally. Tonight he told his story to the Senate -- one that could make any Aggie believe in the American dream -- and openly answered questions about his status for anyone with something to ask. Zelaya assured everyone that he is an American, a Texan, and an Aggie by holding up his right hand and stating, "My ring says so, my bachelor's degree says so, and my heart says so."
The anonymous vote came back half an hour later. Zelaya would not be confirmed in the position he was so well-qualified for after the ballots showed 30 for him and 26 against (a 2/3 majority is required for confirmation). Before the vote, Senator Cary Cheshire spoke out against Zelaya's nomination by calling him a "liability" to Texas A&M. Others claimed that he was not the most qualified candidate because of his passionate approach to divisive issues (a quality most would consider to be a good one in politics).
But the real liability is that our university, which already receives criticism for its lack of diversity and insensitivity to marginalized people, will be known around the country for the student government's decision not to confirm a qualified candidate on the basis of his immigration status. Zelaya's run for Student Body President was already covered by national news media, and this recent decision is likely to attract more attention. At least one reporter from a major news network was in attendance and appeared to be disappointed when the results were announced.
The Texas A&M Student Senate missed an opportunity to have a great candidate appointed to the Student Government Executive Cabinet and a chance to steal the public spotlight in a positive way. It should be noted that just as many students stood up to speak for Zelaya as against him, and the majority of students in the senate voted in his favor. Newly elected Student Body President John Claybrook has also represented A&M well on the issue as he was the one who nominated Zelaya and continues to be a supporter of the A&M grad student. But misunderstanding and intolerance on the part of a few have left a black spot on Texas A&M's reputation for now. I would like to wish Jose Luis Zelaya the best of luck in his future endeavors and urge other Americans not to judge this great university based on one poor decision by 26 student senators.