Fresno State student president outed as illegal immigrant. Does it matter?

Fresno State University student body president Pedro Ramirez was revealed to be an illegal immigrant by an anonymous tip. He says he won't step down.

Rick Sforza/The Sun/AP/file
Andrea Ortega of Fontana, Calif., speaks at a rally to support the DREAM Act in San Bernardino, Calif., on Sept. 21.
Fresno State via The Fresno Bee/AP
This March 26 photo provided by Fresno State shows Pedro Ramirez, who was elected Fresno State student president. An anonymous tip was sent to the campus newspaper this week revealing that Ramirez s an illegal immigrant.

An anonymous student at Fresno State University outed student body President Pedro Ramirez – revealing that Mr. Ramirez is an illegal immigrant the day after the state supreme court ruled that illegal immigrants could claim in-state tuition.

The incident is further evidence that the issue of undocumented immigrants at US colleges is becoming increasingly heated, with 10 states allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

Moreover, Congress continues to consider the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were brought to the US as children and attend college or join the military. Senate majority leader Harry Reid has vowed to bring the bill to a vote this year.

Could you pass a US citizenship test? See how you score.

Mr. Ramirez, brought to the US from Mexico when he was 3, says he didn’t know he was not a citizen until he was a senior in high school. Elected student body president last June, Ramirez is working without the $9,000 stipend for his position because he refused to lie on employment papers.

Fresno State President John Welty said in a statement that Ramirez personally notified him after his election about his immigration status and volunteered to serve without pay. Mr. Welty said that Ramirez has fulfilled all the requirements of state law and that his status does not bar his participation in student affairs, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Others agree. “He is playing within the rules so he shouldn’t step down,” says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento. She says she has had several undocumented immigrants in classes over the years and says they “work extra hard.”

“This shows why we need the federal DREAM Act,” says Professor O’Connor. “Would we rather be paying for [Ramirez] to go to jail or get a college education?”

Advocates of stronger immigration laws say that someone must bear responsibility for breaking the law, though.

Ramirez’s position is difficult but is not the fault of US immigration laws, says Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which seeks to strengthen immigration laws. “It is the fault of his parents who knowingly decided to break the law. Our immigration laws exist to protect the interests of society.… It is his parents, not the American people, who should be held accountable.”

For his part, Ramirez has said he would not resign his position unless and until the students who elected him requested it.

“Why should he resign?” asks Steve Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates lowering immigration numbers in order to improve the experience of those who arrive. “Students like him and other immigrants have been given the clear message for years that American immigration laws don’t matter … everyone has told him to have nothing but contempt for these laws so there is no reason for him to think otherwise.”

Some say Ramirez is a standard-bearer for the many illegal-immigrant students in the US.

“He just happened to be found out, and there are thousands of others just like him,” says Robert Gittelson, a spokesman for Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a group that seeks bipartisan immigration reform. “He is a great, outstanding kid and the fact that he is not getting the money is unfair.”

Indeed, immigrant groups say Ramirez should seize his opportunity in the spotlight.

“He can now become the spokesperson for undocumented students who must keep their immigration status a secret," says Randy Ertll, executive director of El Centro de Accion Social in Pasadena.

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