Marlen Garcia: Let immigrant students be U. of I. trustees

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llinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

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For many years, immigrants living in Illinois who were full-time students at any of three University of Illinois campuses could run to become student members of the Board of Trustees.

It didn’t matter if they were documented, meaning they were legal residents with green cards, or undocumented. They could be elected by their peers at campuses in Chicago, Urbana-Champaign or Springfield as long as they met residency requirements to pay in-state tuition.

This changed two years ago when the Legislature amended the Trustees Act to require that student trustees live in Illinois for at least six months, have an Illinois’ driver’s license and be registered to vote in Illinois.

The third requirement — the stipulation on being a registered voter — wipes out many of of U. of I.’s immigrant students from running for trustee positions. By law, immigrants who aren’t U.S. citizens cannot register to vote.


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The Legislature this year remedied that by passing a bill that would have allowed students to run if they met any of the three requirements instead of all three.

Last week Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bill.

The bill “would allow a student to demonstrate residency by satisfying only one of [the] criteria – for example, just living on campus for six months before the election,” the governor said in a statement. “Therefore, in effect, a nonresident could serve on the Board.”

The governor makes it sound like the six-month residency rule is new. It was enacted in 2014. And it will remain the law under the old bill.

“The University of Illinois is a public institution supported by Illinois taxpayers, and therefore in-state student representation on its Board of Trustees should be a priority,” the governor continued. “Student trustees have the authority to influence decisions with lasting effects on the University and Illinois taxpayers, so it is therefore important to ensure that student trustees are residents of Illinois. Senate Bill 2204 goes too far in eroding the residency requirement.”

But immigrants in this state are tax-paying residents of Illinois and deserve a voice in the university system.

In a statement responding to the veto and to rebut the myth that immigrants do not pay taxes, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights cited research showing undocumented immigrants alone pay $743 million in taxes yearly in Illinois.

With his veto and words, the governor is saying immigrant students “aren’t capable of representing the student body and are not worthy,” Debbie Patiña, a recent UIC graduate said. She and Mateo Uribe, another UIC graduate who tried to run for trustee last year before learning that immigrants became ineligible in 2014, were organizing a rally and news conference for Friday to push for a policy change.

State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, said she believes, based on conversations with Rauner’s staff, that his main hang-up is the 2014 six-month residency rule being too short. That means he is open to immigrants serving as trustees.

“We can work on this,” Hernandez said.

The position of student trustee is an important and prestigious one. Each year three students sit on a board with the governor and 12 other trustees.

A law that excludes immigrants from this position, after it justifiably allowed for their inclusion for years, cannot stand.


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