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Calif. Student President's Immigration Secret Revealed

Politics can be tough, even at the college level.

That's what a student body president at California State University, Fresno, found out the hard way after a school newspaper uncovered a secret of his: that he was in the country without documents.

Pedro Ramírez, 22, had 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 on Tuesday 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," Ramírez 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."

Ramírez 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 without documents who attend college or join the military.

Meanwhile, student leaders were preparing for impromptu immigration debates Wednesday at an Associated Students Inc. meeting that Ramírez was expected to attend.

Ramírez, 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 years old. 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 Ramírez, who hopes to open his own business or become a civil rights attorney.
"Though this is an obstacle, I want to keep moving up, and I'll do what I can to change the situation and hopefully become a citizen," he said.

Ramírez first told Fresno State administrators about his status in June, after his successful campaign to become student body president with the slogan "New Leadership, New Ideas."

Administrators verified he would break no campus or student leadership rules by assuming the post, 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.

David Schecter, chair of the political science department and Ramírez's adviser at the school, said Ramírez was a thoughtful, unassuming leader who was serious about student government.

Ramírez seemed unfazed by the controversy as they sat together at an athletics advisory council meeting about the risk of concussions in field sports, Schecter said, adding no one mentioned the immigration issue.

"Regardless of the uproar, he is still doing his job," Schecter said. "He's the personification of a much larger debate about the role of undocumented Latino Americans in our daily lives, and my hunch is he understands the symbolism here."

Ramírez 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.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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