Election Day has come and gone, but the name-calling, accusations and uncivil nature of election season are still playing out at UNLV.
In October, the Consolidated Students of University of Nevada Judicial Council invalidated the student government elections due to procedural errors and disorganization. Jose Garcia, a student running for a student government senate seat, says a sitting student senator told him shortly afterward he should be glad the election was invalidated.
"I asked him why because I was excited and wanted to win election," said Garcia, 20. "He told me that if I had won, (student senator) Rachel Stephens was ready to file a complaint against me with the elections board because I'm an 'illegal.'"
Garcia's parents brought him to New Mexico from Chihuahua, Mexico, when he was 2 years old. His father had found a job on a farm in New Mexico but did not have a work visa. Garcia said his father crossed the border routinely in those days without papers, and he did not think twice about taking the family with him. Soon after, the whole family moved to Phoenix, where Garcia grew up.
Garcia, now a junior, was elected to the student senate as a freshman but lost his re-election bid in his sophomore year. Since then, he has become more open about not having a legal residency status. He has applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows some young immigrants who are residing in the country illegally to avoid deportation and obtain a two-year work permit and social security number. The program was instituted earlier this year.
The invalidated election was rescheduled for Nov. 28 and 29. On Nov. 19, UNLV's student newspaper, The Rebel Yell, published a letter from Garcia that criticized Stephens for creating an intolerant and intimidating environment.
Stephens, 25, said Garcia never contacted her and that her primary concern was the integrity of the student organization, which she did not want to be in jeopardy of breaking federal law.
"I'm upset about the fact that he claims he fears for his safety and I waged a campaign to silence him. It's absolutely false, and his accusations are very harmful," Stephens said, adding that she has no issue with immigrants and her ex-husband is the son of immigrants from China. Stephens also addressed Garcia's allegations in a response letter to the Rebel Yell.
Garcia said he did attempt to contact Stephens by email, but not until after he submitted his letter to the newspaper.
Stephens, the rules and ethics chairman, argued that because the elected members of the student government are technically employees and receive a $50 weekly stipend, UNLV would be breaking federal law if Garcia were allowed to be a senator.
In his first term as senator, Garcia did not accept the stipend and never filled out employment paperwork with the university. He did benefit from a tuition waiver for student senators.
"The funding for CSUN comes from student tuition, which I pay into," said Garcia, who gets financial help from his parents and also receives a scholarship from the honors college.
Stephens said Garcia knew about the comments for weeks before penning his letter to the Rebel Yell and said he may have waited so he could stir up attention closer to the rescheduled election.
Garcia said he was distracted by exams when he first heard of Stephens' comments and the real reason he took action later was to address a culture of conflict and intolerance in student government and on campus. In his letter, he names Stephens and CSUN President Mark Ciavola as having contributed to the contentious environment.
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