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

Not one, but two, undocumented student leaders have come out this week: So what, or now what?

From a graduation ceremony in Washington, D.C., June 2010
From a graduation ceremony in Washington, D.C., June 2010
Photo by un.sospiro/Flickr (Creative Commons)

In the past two days, two prominent student leaders - one in Fresno, one in Miami - have revealed that they are undocumented. Earlier this week, CSU Fresno's student body president Pedro Ramirez, 22, confirmed his status to reporters. On Wednesday, 19-year-old José Salcedo revealed during a keynote speech at a student rally held at Miami Dade College's InterAmerican campus in Little Havana that he, too, is undocumented.

Ramirez, born in Mexico and here since he was three, is an academic star who was valedictorian of his graduating senior class in high school. Salcedo, born in Colombia and also here since childhood, is a student representative on the trustees board for Miami Dade College and a member of the school's Honors College, a distinction awarded only to 550 elite students on campus, according to the Miami Herald.

Not exactly slackers.

So what should their fate be? In the short term, is there a problem with their serving as student leaders? And in the long term, should these high achievers be granted a shot at legal status or not?

There are hot debates going on about these two things - along with tangentially-related ranting - on several news websites that have reported the two students' stories. The Los Angeles Times has posted a short item seeking reader feedback on the question, "Should an illegal immigrant be student body president at Fresno State?" A snippet of the conversation:

From John Lieto:

Only if he is paying out of state tuition rates.

From "Marley:"
He is breaking the law and should be arrested. Also, I don't believe that he didn't know he was illegal until high school.

From "Victoria:"
Who cares? If he is smart, and got enough votes, live and let live.

In Miami, before the conversation veered quickly into complaints about the controversial "wet-foot, dry-foot" government policy that allows Cubans arriving illegally to stay unless caught at sea, some of those posting comments beneath a Miami Herald piece on Salcedo addressed illegal immigration in general, and generally in heated terms.

Responding to an earlier comment that was apparently removed, "MiamiDude242" wrote:

Hmm i can see why you would feel that way... but not all are bad... perhaps they should just take a test to decide whether they are eligible for green card ive had several friends who were straight A students and spoke great english be picked up and deported all through out middle and highschool ...sure they may not be paying taxes or taking jobs from american citizens but these were good people now i cant stick my neck out for others who choose not to assimilate and learn english but hey they are no different than all the other people living generations on wellfare now are they?

To which "Socialismreallysucks" replied:
You know MiamiDude, I don't disagree with you that many of the illegals may indeed be good people. However, that really does not make a difference. They are ILLEGAL and as ILLEGALS, they are not entitled to be here. They should go back and apply legally. No ILLEGAL alien should be given legal satus. For all their photo ops withn the tape and the signs, they are still ILLEGAL. The dream act should be sticken down where it stands. Absolutely no amnesty. Period.

Stories in the Fresno Bee and Christian Science Monitor have drawn similarly long lists of impassioned comments. There will, no doubt, also be a long list on the KPCC site after Patt Morrison interviews Ramirez during her show this afternoon between 1-3 p.m.

In the meantime, another vote is expected soon on the DREAM Act, proposed legislation that would allow undocumented youths attending college or joining the military to legalize.

So I'd like to hear some feedback from Multi-American readers: Do you think that students like Ramirez and Salcedo should be allowed to obtain legal status? Why or why not?