The president of Seattle University’s student government, a 21-year-old who as a child was brought into the U.S. illegally, is stepping down in the aftermath of the national election.
At night, Carlos Rodriguez says, his dreams have become nightmares, and he flails in bed as if he were fighting someone. During the day, he obsesses over his family’s safety in Georgia, checking the security cameras online that he installed when he was last home for a visit.
On Monday night, the Seattle University senior — whose parents brought him into the U.S. from Mexico without legal permission when he was 3 years old — announced to the SU community that he is resigning as president of its student government.
“When my life is at risk, I can’t do this anymore,” Rodriguez said.
The 21-year-old said he will focus instead on helping other students without legal status find a route to college, and, like him, become part of the Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, which may help them remain in the country.
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He said he feels good about his decision and is getting strong support from his peers.
“Everything’s been pretty great, actually — I woke up to over 70 text messages,” Rodriguez said. “I got multiple phone calls from friends and family all over this country. And just so many messages, from those who don’t have my personal phone number, on Twitter and Instagram.”
Rodriguez said he’s also heard negative and racist comments, “but I’ve heard those threats all my life, so I ignore those.”
Students said Rodriguez is popular and widely admired for his activism on campus, and his decision was regarded as a brave move.
“He’s friends with everyone, and everyone loves him,” said Kate Hannick, executive vice president of student government. “And I think people really respect him and his ideas and his voice.”
Braden Wild, also an executive in student government, said students are “sympathetic, and also hopeful he’s going to be able to work on what’s really important to him.”
The private Jesuit university has long been known for its embrace of social causes.
Rodriguez, a public affairs major, also plans to quit his internship in the King County prosecutor’s office and a part-time job he has held on campus. He was stretched so thin by all of those duties, he said, that he felt his mental health was deteriorating.
He said he’s always been passionate about local government — he was president of his class in middle school — but Donald Trump’s election has forced him to rethink all of that.
“Obviously the inauguration happened, the executive orders regarding immigration, the travel ban, the wall — all these kinds of things hit me at once,” he said.
Those issues forced him to ask some fundamental questions: “Does government work for me? If not, how can I change it?”
He said he has opened up to others since the election, talking not only about his immigration status but also about his family’s hardships while he was growing up, and how the fear of deportation has affected his mental health.
His parents crossed the Texas-Mexican border 18 years ago in search of a better life for their two children, Rodriguez and his brother. For a time, they were homeless, and he said he attended five different high schools.
Rodriguez said he still believes in student government, but because of the pressures he’s facing now, he does not believe he’s the right person to represent students.
Hannick, his classmate, said Rodriguez’s decision brought home in a very personal way how the Trump administration’s choices on immigration could affect other students.
Under the SU student-government constitution, Hannick is likely to fill his role as president.
It’s unclear how the Trump administration will address students like Rodriguez who meet the provisions of DACA.
This week, Washington Reps. Dave Reichert of Auburn, Pramila Jayapal of Seattle and Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside co-sponsored federal legislation that would allow people like Rodriguez who came to the U.S. as children to remain in this country without fear of deportation for three years while Congress and the administration update immigration laws. The bill is called the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy, or BRIDGE, Act.
Meanwhile, college and university presidents from around the state and the nation have expressed their support for both undocumented and international students, and many have signed a petition supporting DACA and asking that it be preserved and expanded.
In a message to the university community Sunday, Seattle U. President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., wrote about SU’s opposition to “the discriminatory and misguided executive order issued by the Trump administration on non-U.S. citizens from select countries … the university is here to support our international students and our undocumented students in every way we can.”
In a Nov. 21 post, he also underscored the university’s support for undocumented students.
University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce — who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Cuba when she was a child — has expressed similar support, writing on her blog that “We are fully committed to providing a safe, secure and welcoming environment that protects the privacy and human rights of all members of our community.”
In another post Sunday, she wrote that the university “is proud to be the home to students, staff and scholars from around the world. We stand with them and will provide them with support as needed.”
Western Washington University President Sabah Randhawa invoked his own history as an immigrant from Pakistan in writing about his “disappointment” with Trump’s executive order.
“The United States has always been a melting pot of people from around the world and our nation has benefited greatly from the contributions of people who have chosen to pursue education here and in many cases, like mine, to become citizens,” Randhawa wrote.
Washington State University officials published a statement Monday in support of both international students and those without legal status.
“The blending of the diverse perspectives represented by our community members enriches all of us,” wrote WSU President Kirk Schulz and WSU Vice President for International Programs Asif Chaudhry. “Put simply, it improves our ability to teach, conduct research, and serve our communities worldwide in meaningful ways.”
Chaudhry was the U.S. ambassador to Moldova from 2008 to 2011.