Student body president in California is illegal immigrant

Former valedictorian had been afraid to go public; status disclosed by Fresno State campus newspaper

By Garance Burke
Published November 17, 2010 9:44PM (EST)

The popular student body president at California State University, Fresno has publicly revealed what he had tried to keep a secret: He's an illegal immigrant.

Pedro Ramirez, 23, previously told campus administrators in confidence that he had been afraid to go public about his status.

But that changed Tuesday after The Collegian, the campus newspaper in the farm belt community, disclosed his status after receiving an anonymous e-mail.

Ramirez offered no immediate comment on the situation in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Ramirez was brought to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 3. He went on to became valedictorian of his high school class but didn't know he was an illegal immigrant until he began applying to colleges.

The political science major told Fresno State officials about his status earlier this year after he won an election to serve as president of the local chapter of Associated Students Inc.

Administrators verified he would break no campus or student leadership rules by winning the position, but encouraged him to take on the role as a volunteer because he couldn't legally accept payment, said Paul Oliaro, university vice president for student affairs.

"I think it does suggest that even though a student may be undocumented, they have a lot to contribute to the campus and come with skills, knowledge and a willingness to serve," Oliaro said.

Ramirez benefits from a law that allows all California residents, regardless of immigration status, to qualify for in-state tuition rates.

The state's high court upheld the law this week.

Garance Burke

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