Student Government Association (SGA) legislators vetoed the sanctuary campus endorsement bill through anonymous voting during Wednesday’s SGA meeting, causing much discontent with activists behind the initiative.
“I thought the secret vote was very cowardly,” said SGA Legislator Wellington Gomez after his bill failed to meet the two-thirds majority among the 16 legislators who voted by anonymous paper ballot, a stark contrast to the usual public vote by hand raising.
“If you are so passionate about the vote and you feel good about the vote, why do it in secret? This was our chance to protect undocumented students,” Gomez added. Legislators who vetoed the bill did not provide further comment.
SGA opposition to the bill contrasted the 74 percent of the 1,016 undergraduate students who voted in favor of the bill in a survey sent out on Friday. The proposal would have had the SGA recommend to Montclair State administration to maintain current policies that protect undocumented immigrants in the wake of President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric.
“There is no way on Earth that we are ever going to discriminate students based on their immigration status,” said Montclair State President Susan A. Cole during her address to protestors and SGA members at the meeting. Cole previously released a letter on Jan. 31, providing support for undocumented students after Trump signed his controversial immigration ban. Cole also signed a letter, along with numerous college and university presidents, condemning the actions of the federal government to Washington D.C. lawmakers.
“[Montclair State] does not provide any information about and does not keep any records in regards to the immigration status of our students. The university fully enforces the federal laws related to the privacy of the students. It has been our policy forever,” said Cole. She added that, while she was in favor of protecting undocumented students, she was not in support of the “sanctuary campus” label.
“There is a difference between saying ‘have not’ and a future tense of ‘will not,’” said student activist Matthew Kelly in response, urging the college to ensure future support of undocumented students.
Critics of the bill shared concern that Montclair State would face potential cuts if they declared themselves a sanctuary campus. However, no such cuts have occurred to any of the U.S. cities and the nine colleges that have declared themselves sanctuaries. Montclair State receives $66.4 million in federal, state and private grants, according to their annual report.
In the middle of heated back and forths, there was a unanimous agreement in needing students to be more involved in democratic processes both on campus and at large.
“The survey numbers for the bill speak for themselves as far as campus approval, and I think we should be sensitive of that,” said student activist Liam Reilly.
Activists brought up suspicions of Cole’s presence having a direct influence on the legislators’ votes, as the SGA has said on record that they meet with Cole on a weekly basis.
“I think [President Cole] doesn’t, but she does influence,” said SGA legislator Ariana Tringali in last week’s meeting.
The SGA gave no timetable as to when they would begin programs to increase student political engagement on campus.
“I think we should encourage these discussions moving forward in the public with the students, not just in closed room meetings,” added Reilly.