Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Über-achiever student? Check. Undocumented? Check.

Graduation cap and accoutrements, October 2010
Graduation cap and accoutrements, October 2010
Photo by Josh Self/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A university student body president and former high school valedictorian, undocumented? Yes, and it shouldn't surprise anyone.

CSU Fresno's campus daily, The Collegian, revealed the immigration status of student body president Pedro Ramirez yesterday after contacting him regarding an anonymous tip, an e-mail sent to the daily alleging that Ramirez was serving as president without pay because he was undocumented. While he had not been out in the open about his status, save for with school administrators, Ramirez confirmed it.

From the story:

Ramirez said that ASI administrators were aware that he would not be paid for the ASI position, but he willfully accepted it as a volunteer position.

“For me, it’s an emotional issue,” Ramirez said. “Not a lot of people know that I am undocumented. A lot of people I got to class with…students, faculty, staff and staff administrators think I’m a normal student.”

Ramirez, an AB 540 student, didn’t know of his legal status until his senior year of high school before his graduation.

AB 540 is a California state law that allows eligible undocumented students to pay in-state tuition fees instead of the more costly out-of state fees.

The Los Angeles Times reported this afternoon that Ramirez, who was born in Mexico, has lived in the United States since he was three years old. In what is a fairly common scenario, he only learned from his parents that he wasn't a U.S. citizen when he was applying to college.

Now that his story is known, Ramirez, a 22-year-old political science major, has come out in support of the DREAM Act, proposed federal legislation that would allow students like him a shot at legal status, along with undocumented youth enlising in the military. A vote is expected at the end of the month.

Ramirez is not the only college student who has achieved high-profile success on campus while lacking legal status, which in spite of AB 540 - just upheld this week by the state Supreme Court - presents other obstacles, including a lack of access to public financial aid.

Another is UCLA Bruin Marching Band drum major David Cho, who has been a vocal proponent of the DREAM Act. In August Cho, a Korean-American who also arrived here as a child, discussed his immigration status on the social-justice blog Citizen Orange as part of collection of posts titled "DREAM Now Series: Letters to Obama."

From Cho's "letter:"

While most of my friends will enter the workplace after graduation, I will not be able to even put my name down on a job application because of my status. I'm a hardworking student with a 3.6 GPA and I am the first Korean and actually the first undocumented student to ever become the conductor, the drum major of the UCLA Marching Band in UCLA history.

My parents brought me to this country when I was only nine years old. I went to school not knowing a single word of English, and I often became my classmates' object of ridicule - many bullies perpetually and ignorantly harassed me. My reaction to this harassment was to study harder, for I was determined to overcome my obstacles and excel in everything that I did. I studied hard and graduated from my high school with a 3.9 GPA.

It was not until my freshman year of college when I found out about my immigration status. I asked my parents for my social security number when filling out my application for UCLA. There was a long pause.

It was the same way in which Ramirez received the bad news. And then, both young men kept plugging away at their ambitions.