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Fresno State student body president acknowledges he is an illegal immigrant [Updated]

November 17, 2010 | 10:52 am

Illegal Pedro Ramirez, Fresno State's student body president, is an undocumented immigrant serving in the position without pay.

Ramirez, 23, attends school on scholarships and pays in-state tuition. California is one of 10 states that permit undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition -- a position that was upheld by the state Supreme Court this week.

After his election last June, he told the administration he would serve without pay -- a $9,000 stipend -- because he could not lie on employment papers. On Tuesday, an anonymous tip to the college newspaper forced Ramirez to go public.

Ramirez, who came to U.S. at the age of 3, said he did not know he was not a citizen until he was a senior in high school. As long as he can remember, he said, his parents -- a maid and a restaurant worker -- have told him he must work hard and achieve the American dream. He said they did not tell him he was not born in this country until he began applying to universities.

"I knew my parents were from Mexico, but a lot of people's parents are from Mexico," he said. "I grew up American."

Other than college counselors and administrators, Ramirez told no one of his status.

"I just kept it within. One of those things you don't tell anyone," he said. "But now I'm almost relieved to have to be open. Congress is about to vote on the Dream Act, which gives college students a path to citizenship. So, you know, here I am. It's me. I am one of the thousands whose fate is in their hands."

Ramirez said he would not resign his position unless the students who elected him demanded it.

The California Supreme Court's unanimous decision on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants is the first of its kind in the nation.

Federal law prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving college benefits based on residency and not provided to all citizens.

However, state officials insist there is no conflict with federal law. Under California's non-resident tuition exemption, known as AB 540 and approved in 2001, public colleges can offer in-state tuition to those who have attended California high schools for at least three years.

Some of those students are illegal immigrants. Others are U.S. citizens who attended high school in California but whose families may now live elsewhere, or those who moved out of the state to study or attended boarding schools in California.

[Updated, 12 p.m.: Fresno State President John D. Welty said in a statement that Ramirez personally notified him after his election about his immigration status and volunteered to serve without pay. Welty said that Ramirez has fulfilled all the requirements of an AB 540 student and that his status does not bar his participation in student affairs.

Associated Students Inc. "requirements do not address immigration status, so Mr. Ramirez was not prohibited from running for ASI office," Welty said in his statement. "I commend Mr. Ramirez and other AB 540 students who are following state statute as they seek higher education.” ]

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders in Congress have pledged to vote on the proposed Dream Act before the end of the year. If approved, the legislation would allow students living in the U.S. illegally to earn legal status if they graduate from high school and complete two years in college or the military.

[For the Record, 6:14 p.m.: The headline on an earlier version of this post said Ramirez "refuses to step down." As the post notes, he said he would not resign his position unless the students who elected him demanded it.]


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-- Diana Marcum in Fresno

Photo: Pedro Ramirez. Credit: Pedro Ramirez for ASI President website