Ana Ramirez, Associated Students vice president for governmental affairs (elect), has assumed an unpaid volunteer position instead of her elected position due to legal issues regarding her undocumented status.
As the consultant for governmental affairs to the AS Board of Directors, Ramirez will retain some of the responsibilities of the position she was elected to, but in a much more restricted capacity.
Western’s AS created the volunteer position on Aug. 17 for Ramirez. The position is solely advisory, so she can’t conduct any actual work.
Ramirez, an undocumented student, was elected by her peers last April, but is unable to be paid or hold her official title until she gains Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, approval from the U.S. government.
“They made [the] position so that I can do work. But in technical terms, they covered it so other board members do the rest of the work and then I consult with them,” Ramirez said in a forum last Friday detailing her journey and continued struggles up to this point.
Ramirez also said the other AS board members are not being paid for the extra work they are taking on, which she said bothered her.
There has also been frustration with the communication between Ramirez, her lawyer and Western’s administration, which Ramirez said has produced no result beyond what was decided earlier in the year.
Paul Cocke, director of communications at Western, said in an email that Western is committed to its most vulnerable students, including undocumented students and that they remain a top priority. He said they had not found an alternative way in which they could legally compensate undocumented students that had not yet received DACA status.
“Western Washington University values undocumented students and has a deep commitment to inclusion. At the same time, we cannot put individual students or the University at risk of violating federal or state law,” Cocke said in an email.
According to Ramirez, Western’s assistant attorney general told Ramirez that if the university had allowed her to work without DACA, they would have had to pay a small fine.
“That’s it, and they didn’t even want to do that for me,” she said. “I know they can afford that.”
According to the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS), employers could face civil fines and/or criminal penalties for employing unauthorized workers. The Federal Register notes that on first offense for 2017, the minimum fine is $458 and the maximum is $4,384.
The salary allocated for the AS VP for governmental affairs position for summer 2017 remains in an account unpaid, totaling $4,013.94, Ramirez said.
Ramirez is petitioning for that money to be split amongst Western’s Ethnic Student Center and the Representation and Engagement Program in equal parts.
Verónica Vélez, assistant professor and the director of the education and social justice minor at Western, said, “I think it’s important as folks begin to think about this [to acknowledge] that there are other universities that have found other ways.”
Vélez asked the audience to consider what it would look like if the university were to discriminate against a particular group of students up-front during the election process.
“So it was almost like they gambled with somebody’s life, to see what’s going to happen, and then deal with the collateral effects afterwards,” Vélez said.
Ramirez said she applied for DACA after winning the election, but is still awaiting approval. She applied before the Trump administration started its six-month wind down to the program.
“Building up to that announcement, everyone was saying how that was going to be ending DACA, meaning not accepting first-time applications or applications that haven’t been approved yet. And so I was really scared that that was going to happen [to me].”
Ana Ramirez, Associated Students vice president for governmental affairs (elect)
It turned out that the government would however still process DACA applications submitted before the Sept. 5 announcement.
Ramirez said this meant she could still get her DACA application approved and fill her original position as AS vice president for governmental affairs.
Ricardo Lõpez, vice president for the United Faculty of Western Washington, said he would bring up the issues surrounding Ramirez’s situation to the union executive committee on Tuesday and to President Randhawa the week after that.