For the second and final time, the Student Senate denied Jose Luis Zelaya’s nomination for Student Government vice president of diversity Tuesday night. During the course of debate, several senators said the curriculum and instruction graduate student’s immigration status was a factor in the decision, while others cited Zelaya’s history of activism.
Zelaya’s immigration status was presented as an issue for the image of A&M, with some senators saying he was the most qualified person for the position but wasn’t the right person because he does not reside legally in the U.S.
“I don’t think his status in this country should play the main part, [but] I think it did play a part. It’s very unfortunate,” Brown said. “I think he was voted down for the wrong reasons.”
Joseph Puente, senior telecommunication and media studies major, said Senate’s vote will make A&M look bad in the light of national media.
“It’s going to send a message to a diverse community of students all around the United States who are going to reconsider applying to A&M because they are going to feel unwelcome,” Puente said.
Maria Cabello, junior political science major and president of the Council for Minority Student Affairs, said Student Senate made the wrong decision.
“He was the most qualified applicant, and as an undocumented student he is a role model to students across Texas,” Cabello said.
“From the outside looking in, they’re just going to see us as a bunch of conservative bigots,” Brown said.
“It’s really confusing because I consider A&M my family, and I’m told that I don’t belong here,” Zelaya said.
The Texas legislature has provided for students not living legally in the country to attend public colleges despite their immigration status. Zelaya said he has made efforts to gain citizenship in the U.S., which he calls “home” after fleeing a violent home and gang violence in Honduras. Zelaya told the Senate he applied for political asylum to become a legal resident but was denied due to the lack of documented proof of a violent family member.
Texas Aggie Conservative member and junior political science major Cary Cheshire spoke before the Senate and prefaced his statement by saying he wasn’t “going to be politically correct here.”
“His status is a problem for me,” Cheshire said. “I think that it is a huge liability for Texas A&M to bring in somebody who you know, as Cody Davis pointed out at the last meeting, pending the presidential race could be deported next year.”
Student Body President John Claybrook said he was disappointed that the best candidate he “could have ever put forth” was not confirmed. Claybrook will be without a vice president of diversity until the fall semester. Zelaya is ineligible for nomination a third time, according to SGA bylaws.
“[Zelaya will] serve on the diversity commission next year. He won’t be the director, but he will make strong contributions to what we do to diversity and student government next year,” Claybrook said. “He doesn’t need a position to make an incredible influence at Texas A&M.”