Embattled ASLMU Senator faces impeachment and ousting from immigrant spaces

Friday, October 9, 2020

Graphic: Raven Yamamoto

Embattled ASLMU Senator faces impeachment and ousting from immigrant spaces

By Raven Yamamoto, Danica Creahan

In Nov. 2019, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) and the California Dream Network (CDN) held its yearly retreat for undocumented people, DACA recipients and their allies in Monterey Bay. Over 50 people came ready to plan how their community could take action in preparation for the 2020 election when America will decide whether or not to re-elect a president well-known for anti-immigration policies. 

In attendance at the three-day CHIRLA retreat was then-sophomore LMU student Stephanie Martinez. A newcomer to the group, she was invited by CHIRLA organizer Melody Klingenfuss after attending a CHIRLA event in defense of DACA. Martinez got involved with the organization through her Gender and Society: Immigration and Reproduction class.

Martinez is now under scrutiny due to her position in LMU student government as ASLMU senator for Diversity and Inclusion. This Sunday, she will become the first sitting ASLMU senator to face impeachment proceedings. In May of this year, fellow senators discovered past tweets from her personal account that included anti-immigrant rhetoric.According to ASLMU Bylaws, Martinez’s position is designed to “represent the varying needs and issues related to identities including, but not limited to, gender, sexual orientation, culture [and] disabilities.” 

There are at least 20 undocumented students at any given time in the LMU undergraduate student body, though the actual amount is likely higher due to underreporting for fear of reprisal. This includes potentially undocumented students and DACA recipients. LMU is also part of the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN), a network of Jesuit schools and universities in the United States committed to social justice, including the protection of DACA and their undocumented students.

When Martinez ran for Diversity and Inclusion senator in April 2020, she listed volunteer work with CHIRLA as part of her platform and mission statement. When asked about the nature of her work with the organization for Agency’s May 2020 article on her unearthed anti-immigrant social media posts, Martinez said she had gone to events held by CHIRLA to “bring attention to the unjust measures Trump was pursuing to end (DACA).” Martinez further stated that her work with CHIRLA had “motivated me to use my privilege to advocate for immigrant rights” and that her old tweets did not reflect her current view on immigration. 

Despite Martinez’ assertion in May that her views on immigration rights no longer aligned with her previous tweets, last month Martinez became the president of LMU’s Students for Trump, a pro-conservative, pro-Trump student group with high school and college chapters across the country. Students for Trump, which started as a social media campaign, is a project of Turning Point Action, a sister organization to Turning Point USA, a nonprofit famously run by conservative activist and influencer Charlie Kirk. 

In a commentary piece, Kirk published his list of priorities on immigration policy: “building the wall as a first priority; ending birthright citizenship; establishing English as the official language of the United States; ending chain migration and the visa lottery; lowering overall legal immigration levels; and dramatically increasing enforcement of E-Verify and visa overstays.”

Martinez refused our request to comment on LMU’s Students For Trump chapter or her leadership of the group.

Bella Brown* a member of CHIRLA who has asked to remain anonymous, says she was approached by Martinez during the retreat to participate in a documentary video that Martinez described as “a school project.” According to Brown, Martinez wanted to film undocumented folks, DACA recipients and those of mixed statuses talking about their lived experiences and why it was important that DACA be reinstated. 

Brown says she agreed to be filmed and spoke about about her status and experience as an undocumented person on camera. She says she did so with the intent of supporting Martinez, who had introduced herself as an LMU student and ally to the Los Angeles immigrant community. Brown says she exchanged contact info with Martinez but never heard from her about the final product for class or otherwise.

At the time of the CHIRLA retreat, Brown thought nothing about working with a self-described immigrant advocate and LMU student on her class project. Brown grew concerned, however, when she learned in August of the petition calling for Martinez’ impeachment and the anti-immigrant social media posts the LMU Senator made that were dated just months before the 2019 retreat.

“We were all under [the] assumption, you know, [of a] safe space, everyone here is either undocumented or previously undocumented or an ally,” she said. 

Brown explained that she wasn’t worried for her own safety, but rather the safety of others whom she says Martinez filmed despite their vulnerable statuses as undocumented immigrants.

“I've come to the point where I feel comfortable telling my story, you know?” she said. “ I was just worried for folks [for whom] it was basically their first time ever sharing their story.”

Martinez says the video she captured was intended to be individual subjects sharing a few words on what DACA meant to them, and that she later showed it to her Gender and Society class.

“Students were replying like ‘hope’ and like giving just one-word responses…” Martinez explained, “I showed it to the class and soon after, I deleted the video.”

Multiple students in that class said they don’t recall seeing a video presented by Martinez. Dr. Borgia could not recall whether or not a video was presented. 

A DACA recipient who also participated in Martinez’ documentary video project said he became fearful after seeing the petition made against her and the pro-Trump posts of hers. 

“A lot of us who were recorded were very scared to know what she was going to do with that information,” he said. “We saw that she made some comments that were very anti-immigrant and we were afraid for our families and our statuses because we exposed ourselves to her.”

While working with CHIRLA, Martinez received credit for the course, Gender and Society: Immigration and Reproduction, taught by Dr. Danielle Borgia. The course had a focus on immigration and Latin America. For their final project, students could either do a research project or perform community service with a variety of organizations and share with the class what they learned from the experience. Both project options were required to be delivered as speeches, and did not call for the use of video, because the course had an oral skills flag. 

Dr. Borgia says, after working with Martinez closely and seeing her speak so passionately about immigrant rights during class, she was shocked to learn about her student’s past social media posts.

“I just feel awful that undocumented people who opened up to someone who's supposed to be an ally and who's volunteering on my behalf, for an organization that is dedicated to helping immigrants ... feel that they're afraid that they might be outed or something,” Dr. Borgia said.

A Snapchat post made by Martinez while attending her first CHIRLA rally less than a week before the retreat, shows her holding a sign that says “Rise up for DACA!” It was a gathering to help send off a delegation of the nonprofit’s members to Washington D.C. for the Supreme Court’s hearing of DACA set for Nov. 12. 

The caption on Martinez’s post reads, “when classes force you to go [to] events you disapprove of ... #facade.” Martinez declined to comment on the image.

Despite the apparent disapproval of CHIRLA by Martinez in the Snapchat post, during CHIRLA’s retreat, Martinez ran for a position on the California Dream Network’s “steering committee,” an executive board that leads CHIRLA’s work for immigrant rights. Anyone in attendance at the retreat could run for a position if they gave a speech. Martinez spoke to the crowd of over 50 people about wanting to one day be an immigration attorney, but was not elected by her peers.

Dr. Borgia explained that she never required students to attend events such as the CHIRLA rally shown in Martinez’s Snapchat, and that she only offered extra credit for those who attended them voluntarily. She also emphasized that she gave students an exhaustive list of volunteer opportunities, many of which had nothing to do with immigration. 

Sandy Gonzalez, a permanent resident who was formerly undocumented, was also filmed by Martinez, and explained that her biggest concern after learning about the senator’s previous tweets was how Martinez had, in her view, “infiltrated a safe space for undocumented people knowing that it was a safe space” where people could speak freely without fear of deportation, imprisonment or other retaliatory actions.

“I know how scary it can be to open up [about your status] and then imagine finding out later that one of the people that you opened up to [has] these ideals that go against your very existence,” she said. “It just feels like a violation.”

CHIRLA organizer Melody Klingenfuss did a presentation in Dr. Borgia’s class about the organization as a place where students could volunteer their time. She worked closely with Martinez during her time at CHIRLA, but says Martinez is no longer welcome in their spaces after the organization learned about the Senator’s past tweets and the videos that Martinez filmed of her students. As the main organizer of the 2019 retreat and the person who invited Martinez, Klingenfuss feels responsible for the undue stress caused to her students. Klingenfuss says she encourages Martinez to volunteer her time elsewhere.  

“I can't even put into words how it makes me feel that this place was potentially put in an unsafe situation by this individual,” Klingenfuss said. 

ASLMU will vote Sunday on whether or not to impeach Martinez after hearing her case in which a “misleading representation of her involvement with CHIRLA” is listed on the impeachment complaint made against the senator alongside “public statements” made by her.

*This person has requested to remain anonymous.

DISCLAIMER: Robyn De Leon, the co-author of the May 2020 article, is the Director of Free Speech in ASLMU and was called by Diversity and Inclusion Senator Camille Orozco to testify in Martinez’ impeachment case this Sunday. Due to the nature of De Leon's position, his attendance is mandatory. Raven Yamamoto, the other co-author of the original article and this article, was called to testify but declined due to their ongoing reporting on the impeachment proceedings that create a conflict of interest.

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