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By Daniel C. Houston
The Student Senate approved a controversial bill Thursday encouraging the Baylor administration to publicly advocate for providing certain classes of illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship.
SR 59-18, which passed 25-20 after more than an hour of contentious debate, calls on the administration to “compose an official university stance” in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
The DREAM Act is a bill filed by congress that would grant conditional permanent residency to illegal immigrants who entered the country before the age of 15 and have either earned a high school-equivalent degree or enrolled at an institution of higher learning in the U.S.
Malcolm Ladines, senior senator from Plano and co-author of Thursday’s bill, said he expected a close outcome because not all the senators agree on the subject of immigration reform.
“It was a really close vote, and I know a lot of it was tight partially because of political stances that were brought into this debate,” Ladines said. “I think we need to keep in mind our students and those who might not be able to voice their opinions.”
Although Ladines and fellow co-author Cody Brasher, junior senator from Birmingham, Ala., cited census data and research from the Pew Hispanic Center in their bill, they acknowledged they did not extensively survey Baylor students before introducing it.
Several of the bill’s detractors, including Sugar Land junior senator Cody Orr, justified their criticism by suggesting student government should gather more student opinion before making a statement about a controversial political measure.
“This [proposal] does not represent the voice and the opinion of students,” Orr said. “This represents the voice and opinion of less than 52 people who think that they know what students want without asking students what they want.”
But Katy senior senator Shaun Wysong said a majority of student opinion should not carry when it could potentially marginalize other groups of students, including illegal immigrants.
“Honestly, it doesn’t really matter if the bulk of the student body supports this or not,” Wysong said. “Even if the majority is against this, we disparage the rights and the beliefs and the privileges of those who are already at this university and pointing at them and saying, ‘You matter less than us just because of circumstances you cannot control.’”
But some senators were also concerned about the impact passing the DREAM Act could have on economic growth and immigration patterns.
Dallas freshman Connor Mighell opposed SR 59-18, arguing it would promote illegal activity by making illegal immigrants eligible for taxpayer-funded programs including federal student loans and work-study.
“I will not support a bill which asks Baylor to throw its support behind an act with this many gaping flaws that rewards and encourages illegal behavior,” Mighell said.
Frisco senior senator T.J. Blease said he believes the DREAM Act would help the U.S. remain competitive in international labor markets.
He said a policy of educating immigrants in the country only to force them to leave once they would be able to work for American companies and organizations “makes no sense” to him.
Student government officials will distribute the passed bill to administrators in the hopes they will consider adopting a public stance on the DREAM Act as they did during the 2011 Texas legislative session supporting funding for the Tuition Equalization Grant and fighting against allowing concealed handguns on Baylor’s campus.
The act is currently pending in the U.S Senate judiciary committee.