YELL LETTER SPARKS CSUN CONTROVERSY
Senator denies allegations of threatening to report current candidate’s undocumented status
Controversy has arisen after a letter to the editor published in The Rebel Yell alleged that a current CSUN student government senator sought to file a case against a candidate in student government elections on the grounds that he is undocumented.
UNLV student and former CSUN senator José García asserted in the letter that he was told by several CSUN senators that CSUN health sciences senator Rachel Stephens referred to him as “illegal” and claimed he should be deported.
“Although the letter and incident was very much a part of CSUN, I think it’s part of a bigger anti-immigrant, discriminatory issue,” García said.[flickr id=”8220817314″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”true” size=”large” group=”” align=”right”]
García served as a CSUN liberal arts senator during the 41st senate session. Though undocumented, he did not accept the $50 weekly stipend that senators usually receive, though he did accept a tuition credit waiver. Due to the fact that UNLV doesn’t require official employment paperwork be filled out for those who only accept the tuition waiver — which counts as a scholarship — his involvement with CSUN was deemed legal.
Garcia is currently running for a seat in the 43rd Senate Session of the undergraduate student government.
Stephens said that if García was elected and then received the stipend, CSUN might be held legally responsible.
A member of CSUN told García about Stephens’ remarks during an informal conversation several weeks before he wrote the letter. The senate member told him that Stephens was planning to file an elections case against him if he were elected because García is an undocumented student.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Stephens in response to allegations that she would have García deported. “And at the same time I’d like to know if I’m guilty because of the color of my skin or am I guilty because everyone’s already heard my side of the story and they’ve already judged for themselves the validity of my case.”
Both Stephens and García said that they were being specifically targeted because of their race.
“I think it’s because I’m caucasian and it’s easy to target me and say I’m a racist,” she said.
CSUN urban affairs senator Gil Revolorio was one of three people who spoke to García about Stephens’ comments.
“She said — and she actually explained herself on why she would say that — because technically if he was hired by CSUN that means that he would get paid,” Revolorio said, “and if he was an undocumented person that’s actually a crime. So she would have no choice but to report to immigration which would mean he would get deported.”
Revolorio said that during their conversation, García said he was disappointed that Stephens did not move forward with an elections case, because he would then have been able to sue CSUN and “go to school for free.”
García, a history and women’s studies major, confirmed that he made the statement jokingly.
Stephens said that García’s letter was a ploy to distract people from the fact that García is breaking the law when he is running for a position that is sworn to uphold rules and laws.
“This is clearly for attention,” Stephens said. “I think he’s really only thinking about himself.”
CSUN Senate candidate Elias Benjelloun, who is running with García on the Rebels Rising ticket, said that the issue had nothing to do with the upcoming CSUN election.
Benjelloun sent Stephens a text message when he first heard that there was an issue. Stephens said she made it clear her comments were based on a legal matter, and were not meant as a personal attack.
Benjelloun said that undocumented students have run for CSUN positions before and that none of them have ever received any threats of action against them.
“I find it very unfortunate that Jose’s being targeted,” he said.
García did not speak to Stephens before he wrote the letter and Stephens said that she has never actually spoken to him.
García mentioned CSUN president Mark Ciavola and members of the “Rebels United circle” — people who ran on the Rebels United ticket in the past and were elected into the senate.
He linked Ciavola and Stephens as senators who had previously run on the ticket, though Stephens has only run on Rebels United once during the Oct. 3 and 4 senate election — after Ciavola had been serving as president of CSUN.
“I have no idea why he mentioned Mark in that letter,” Revolorio said.
Revolorio said that he and García did not mention Ciavola when they initially spoke about Stephens’ remarks.
“José’s choice to tie Rachel Stephens to me and the Rebels United ticket are purely for political gain in the middle of his bid to become a CSUN senator,” Ciavola said in an email.
Ciavola wrote that the issue is only between García and Stephens, who is known for being outspoken in and out of the senate.
“In fact, both José and Rachel say things all the time that I don’t agree with or find offensive,” he said. “That’s life.”
García said that he mentioned Ciavola specifically because of the atmosphere they have created in CSUN.[flickr id=”8219736881″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”true” size=”large” group=”” align=”left”]
“Calling someone illegal and saying that you want to get someone deported is something that you can only say in certain places,” he said.
García said that if Stephens was in a classroom environment or another public place then she probably wouldn’t have said the remarks.
He said that the word “illegal” is dehumanizing and that undocumented students and the immigrant movement as a whole have rejected the term.
“In CSUN they’re very much feeding into this discriminatory hate-speech,” he said.
Stephens and Ciavola did not feel the same way about the language Stephens used.
“Do we start saying that people who have plagiarized work can’t be called plagiarists because it hurts their feelings?” Stephens asked. “No, because they’re breaking the rules.”
Ciavola said while he understands the movement to replace the word “illegal” with “undocumented,” the term is accurate, “whether the PC Police like it or not.”
“Is that a racial slur? No,” Stephens said. “It is a fact that you are breaking our law.”
Stephens said that García’s letter, which she called “reckless,” will have a continuing effect on her life. García said that Stephens “should have had the foresight” to know that the comments she made could be repeated to him.
“I’m never going to be able to live this down because the Internet is forever,” she said.
Stephens claimed that other members of CSUN have been contacted by local media outlets for comment on the issue, but didn’t go to her for comment. She also said that after the letter was published she received two letters from potential employers stating that she would not receive the positions that she had applied for.
García said that he does not think that writing the letter was irresponsible and that he does not regret submitting it.
“I’m proving to myself and anyone whoever called me illegal or said that I couldn’t do anything that although I am undocumented I still have a lot to offer and I can still help my community,” he said.