November 18, 2010 in Nation/World

Student leader is illegal immigrant

Recently upheld law permits enrollment
Garance Burke Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Pedro Ramirez is Fresno State University’s student body president.
(Full-size photo)

FRESNO, Calif. – The popular student body president at California State University, Fresno has publicly revealed a personal detail he long sought to keep secret: He is an illegal immigrant.

Pedro Ramirez, 22, previously told campus administrators in confidence that he was concerned about going public with his immigration status after winning the top post in student government.

But that changed Tuesday when the Collegian, the newspaper at the largest university in California’s prolific farming region, disclosed his status after receiving an anonymous e-mail.

“I don’t want this issue to be about me,” Ramirez told the Associated Press Wednesday. “This is a big, big issue that should have been addressed a long time ago. My goal is to bring awareness to that.”

Ramirez was expected to appear Friday at a campus rally in support of the federal “DREAM Act,” which would create a path to citizenship for young people living in the country illegally who attend college or join the military.

Ramirez, who has a dual major in political science and agricultural economics, came to the U.S. with his family from a small community in Jalisco, Mexico, when he was 3. He went on to become valedictorian of his high school class in nearby Tulare County, where he prepared for his “long road in higher education,” according to his website.

He said didn’t know he lacked proper immigration papers until high school, when he told his parents he planned to join the military before applying to college and they told him he wasn’t a citizen.

“It’s a relief that I was able to come out in the open because I’ve been holding this for several years, and hearing stories from other students who have gotten deported or moved because of the fear,” said Ramirez, who hopes to open his own business or become a civil rights attorney.

Ramirez said he is paying for college through private scholarships that don’t ask about residency status and odd jobs such as mowing lawns.

He is enrolled at Fresno State under a state law that allows undocumented immigrants who have attended a California high school for three years to pay in-state tuition at public colleges. The state Supreme Court this week upheld the statute, which applies to an estimated 25,000 students.

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