It was a bold move on one of the nation’s most conservative campuses, where some student leaders have attracted national media attention for vocal opposition to a Texas law that allows certain illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition.
Texas A&M graduate student Jose Luis Zelaya greets students while campaigning at a meeting last Wednesday. Zelaya is running for student body president at the university.
Jose Luis Zelaya sat at a long table in front of a packed auditorium on the Texas A&M campus Thursday night, steadying his nerves for his second student body presidential debate.
The previous debate was carefully controlled, with a moderator asking each candidate the same question. But this time, he and the five other candidates would take questions submitted by fellow students.
One by one, the candidates expounded on a range of issues, including tuition, fees and student services. And then, toward the end of the debate, Zelaya got the question he dreaded most: How would his legal status play a role if he was elected president? It was an issue that none of his fellow candidates had raised during the campaign, despite knowing he was undocumented.
Afterward, Zelaya, 24, said he felt blind-sided.
“I’m not running because I’m undocumented. I’m running because I’m an Aggie,” he said. “It’s just like, what if I was gay? Would they have asked me if being gay was going to play a role? If I was atheist, would they ask me those things? What does it take to be seen as a regular Aggie, not as an undocumented Aggie?”
That Zelaya is an illegal immigrant is no secret.