In 2015, Jose Salazar Arenas was elected Associated Students, Inc. student body president at California State University, Long Beach. He served his position without work authorization from DACA, and instead received a scholarship.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, allows undocumented people who came to the United States as children to defer deportation and obtain work authorization for two years at a time, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Federal law does not allow students without DACA to be paid for work through direct compensation.
Sophomore Ana Ramirez, who was elected Associated Students vice president for governmental affairs in spring 2017, finds herself in a similar situation at Western. However, she has been prevented from fulfilling her position due to her lack of work authorization.
She applied for authorization soon after being elected and is waiting for approval. While California State University, Long Beach, found an alternate way to pay Salazar Arenas before he received authorization, Western so far has not.
“I think the difficulty in Ana's case is that the administration is sort of drawing a line saying, 'If you don't have employment authorization then you can't assume your position.' It's sort of cut and dry, and it's not necessarily that cut and dry if they wanted to find another way to allow her to assume that position.”
Hannah Stone, U.S. immigration and citizenship law attorney
When asked about schools who had found other options, Western’s Communications and Marketing Director Paul Cocke said in an email that the problem with comparing different colleges is that some campuses’ elected leaders receive tuition or scholarships.
“We do not know whether other institutions have a student elections code that requires that students be able to complete a U.S. employment eligibility form and be eligible to work under federal law as a specific criterion for eligibility for office, as is the case for AS,” Cocke said in the email.
Hannah Stone is a Bellingham attorney who specializes in U.S. immigration and citizenship law. She said it's somewhat of a can of worms to open up, but immigration laws draw a line between someone being authorized or not authorized for employment.
“I think the difficulty in Ana's case is that the administration is sort of drawing a line saying, 'If you don't have employment authorization then you can't assume your position,'” Stone said. “It's sort of cut and dry, and it's not necessarily that cut and dry if they wanted to find another way to allow her to assume that position.”
Stone said if a student is enrolled and pays tuition, that student should have an equal opportunity to access their education to the fullest. In that respect, the student should still be able to engage in student leadership, other clubs and other positions on campus, and while they wouldn’t be employed, they could still be recognized for their leadership or public service in the form of a stipend or scholarship, she said.
Cocke said in an email that Western has reviewed all alternatives brought to the table, and the results have not changed. Western remains willing to explore options, but during this process, must respect both the AS election code and federal internal revenue law, he said in the email.
Salazar Arenas said he had not applied for DACA before running for the student body president position, but applied after he was elected, similar to Ramirez.
“I was the first undocumented individual running at the university. When I was running, I had to make sure I sent out that message because I didn’t want any surprises to come out to the student body,” Salazar Arenas said.
James Ahumada is the Associated Students, Inc. senior communications manager at California State University, Long Beach. He said Salazar Arenas remained undocumented throughout his presidency. Because of this, Salazar Arenas wasn't able to receive any payment as a salary, like a documented student leader would have, Ahumada said.
However, Salazar Arenas worked with the university to change the way student leaders got paid and was able to fulfill his position through a scholarship. He said it took four to five months into his presidency to receive his scholarship.
“The university president and vice president met with him frequently to figure out, 'How do we make sure he's still supported while he's doing all this extracurricular service for the student body,'” Ahumada said. “He was able to take office, and they encouraged him to do his role and serve in his capacity as student body president.”
Salazar Arenas said obtaining his position took some effort from him — he talked to Congress members, lawyers and students to advocate on his behalf. The students showed the administration they wanted him as a leader, regardless of the fact that he was an immigrant, he said.
“It was definitely a great accomplishment,” Salazar Arenas said. “But unfortunately, when I became student body president, one of the hurdles was [the university] didn’t know how to deal with me.”
Stone said there are different ways for someone to receive non-monetary compensation, but under immigration laws, this is still technically considered employment if they are being compensated in any way.
“It's hard because in a position like that, a student leadership position, if the university is typically looking at it as a paid job, where you're going to work X number of hours and were going to pay you for that time, obviously that student is not eligible for that,” she said.
The best thing Ramirez could do right now is to do is to organize, get the community and the people who elected Ramirez behind her, and let the administration know the constituents, the people who are paying the bills for the administration, want this individual elected, Salazar Arenas said.