Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Undocumented Immigrant College Student Runs for Student Body President

College student Jose Luis Zelaya is open about his status as an undocumented immigrant, and he’s drawing attention for the campaign he ran for student body president at Texas A&M University. Although he lost on Tuesday night, he’s still making headlines for speaking openly about his immigration status.

The Houston Chronicle reported on his campaign and how his residency status has become an issue in the election. At one candidates’ forum, a student asked how his legal status would influence his decisions if he were elected president. ”I’m not running because I’m undocumented,” he told the Chronicle. “I’m running because I’m an Aggie.”

Some student groups at the university have protested against Texas’ policy of granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. The Texas Aggies Conservatives organization has petitioned Governor Rick Perry to end in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. In 2010, the university’s student senate voted to oppose in-state tuition.

Last April, Zelaya, 24, spoke on the university’s plaza about coming to the United States from Honduras illegally at age 14 with his mother to flee from an abusive father. He has been a vocal supporter of the national DREAM Act. Zelaya already has earned a bachelor’s degree from the university and is an aspiring teacher now pursuing a master’s degree in education. He sells crocheted beanies to make money to pay for college.

In addition to student movements against in-state tuition at the university, there also are A&M students who are accepting of Zelaya’s background. The Chronicle reported that at the same debate where he was asked about his status, fellow candidate Brody Smith came to his defense. ”He has an Aggie ring on his finger,” Smith told the audience. “And we all bleed maroon.”

If you find a compelling undocumented immigrant student willing to tell their story openly, it may be worth an article. However, always be careful that the student understands the possible repercussions about speaking out. A number of student-run organizations in various states have openly campaigned for the DREAM act, and the students involved in such movements may be more open to speaking with the media.