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Student says he's been threatened for being undocumented immigrant

By Nick Valencia, CNN
  • Pedro Ramirez is Fresno State student body president
  • He made news in November for being president despite being an undocumented immigrant
  • He says has been threatened numerous times since then

(CNN) -- Much has changed for Fresno State student body President Pedro Ramirez since he made news in November for admitting to being an undocumented immigrant.

For one, he says he's been threatened countless times.

"My cell phone info was public since I'm the (student body) president and so that was leaked out and people were calling me at night leaving me very -- let's say passionate voice mails," he said.

The worst was the voice mail of gunshots and someone laughing in the background, he said. He received phone calls from as far away as Utah from someone who said they were coming to California to make a "citizen's arrest" because he was "illegal." They never showed up, he said.

Ramirez moved with his parents from Mexico when he was 3. He has little memory of living anywhere other than Tulare, California, located about 45 miles outside Fresno.

"I wanted to go to the military, but then I started asking questions and found out I wasn't a citizen. And then I found out I was undocumented," Ramirez told CNN in November.

"I knew I was born in Mexico, but I was under the impression that we fixed our legal residency. So when I found out that wasn't the case, I was a little taken away."

For four years, Ramirez did not reveal his undocumented status. When he started college at Fresno, he told a few friends about his illegal status and hoped they would keep his secret. That all changed in November after an anonymous tip to the Fresno State newspaper, The Collegian, leaked his undocumented status.

Reaction to the news was mixed. While a small, but vocal group came out against Ramirez, Fresno State President John D. Welty emerged as one of Ramirez's most high-profile supporters. "I commend (him) and other AB 540 students who are following the statute as they seek higher education despite a great many difficulties that undocumented immigrants face," Welty said in a statement to CNN.

AB 540 is a California state law that allows qualified undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, instead of out-of-state tuition, at California's public higher education institutions.

"When (his) immigration status was made public ... there was some campus controversy and it occurred at the same time when the Student Senate voted to endorse the Dream Act," Welty said. "My support of their efforts stems from a hope that our campus and community will remember that diverse colleges and universities better prepare students for the diverse workplace of today and tomorrow."

Welty was referring to legislation that calls for offering a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children. In December, the Dream Act was defeated by a Republican filibuster in the Senate after winning passage in the House.

Despite his support for Ramirez, Welty said the controversy and conflict surrounding the student is understandable. Still, he lauds Ramirez for "encouraging students to strive to change laws in our nation that may be unjust."

Fellow Fresno State senior Neil O'Brien -- who describes himself an Argentinean-American citizen born to legal immigrant parents from Argentina -- became Ramirez's most vocal critic.

"There is a process to become a citizen. There is a path. My parents emigrated here from South America. They took the path Pedro should have taken. That's the process in place and that's the process he should have applied to. He shouldn't be a special case. He shouldn't be granted special treatment," O'Brien said in a phone interview with CNN.

O'Brien created a website called, which he uses to "expose" Ramirez, he says on his website.

"I agree with diversity. This is nothing against diversity," O'Brien told CNN. "This is not about race or anti-diversity. Everybody knows this country was built by immigrants. But we are a nation of laws. The reason this country is so great is because we have laws."

In recent months, other college students have come forward as undocumented immigrants.

This month, U.S. immigration officials decided that an undocumented immigrant in Georgia apprehended by authorities after driving without a license can stay in the United States for another year. Reached by phone as she rushed to class last week, Kennesaw State University student Jessica Colotl told CNN the decision was "like a big present."

Mariano Cardoso, 23, a Capital Community College student in Hartford, Connecticut, is also undocumented.

Much like Ramirez, the Mexican college student has lived in the United States since his family entered the country illegally when he was a toddler. In late April, Connecticut's governor and two U.S. senators announced they had won the fight against Cardoso's deportation and that he would be allowed to stay in the United States, for now, and graduate this month with his classmates.

"I think that's great," Ramirez said Cardosa's case. "I believe that he's a student like me. It shows that people support us. Just like the polls show, (the U.S. would) rather have students who want to stay in the country. They want to find a path for them rather then deport them."

For Ramirez, his dream is still very much alive. He's looking into continuing his education to get a master's in public administration and policy. To those who criticize his still illegal status, he said, "Until Congress decides to act, there's no process" to become a citizen.

He understands he is a divisive character, but said he's received more support than attacks in the six months since his immigration status was released.

He is scheduled to graduate on May 21.