President John D. Welty used a student rally in support of the DREAM Act to call for California State University, Fresno to lead the way in helping encourage Congress to pass the act and help thousands of affected college students.

The legislation pending in Congress would make it possible for some longtime undocumented residents to become legal U.S. residents after they spend two years in college or the military.

President Welty told the Nov. 19 rally of nearly 500 in the Free Speech Area that the university should continue to foster and cherish diversity and to urge elected representatives in Congress to support the DREAM Act.

Associated Students Inc. president Pedro Ramirez also addressed the rally and urged passage of the act. The matter is personal for Ramirez, who revealed just days before that he is an undocumented immigrant enrolled at Fresno State under provisions of state Assembly Bill 540.

Ramirez’s residency status issue resulted news coverage from most major news outlets in the US – including “CBS Evening News With Katie Couric,” CNN, CNN Espanol, MSNBC, NPR, Radio Bilingüe, Telemundo, Univision, – and internationally, with BBC Worldwide and outlets from Japan and Colombia requesting interviews.

On Nov.15, the state Supreme Court decision upheld AB540. It allows undocumented immigrants to attend public colleges and universities and pay in-state fees if they attended a California high school for three years and graduated, and meet college entrance requirements.

Ramirez, who was born in Mexico and brought to the San Joaquin Valley at age 3 by his parents, filed the appropriate AB 540 paperwork when he applied for admission to Fresno State. He met all admission requirements, bringing a GPA with him that had earned the privilege to serve as Tulare Union High School’s valedictorian in 2007.

Requirements for Associated Students, Inc. office do not address immigration status, so he was not prohibited from running for ASI office. He was a student senator and then was elected student body president for the 2010-11 year. He plans to graduate in May.

In a statement earlier in the week, Welty reaffirmed “California State University, Fresno’s commitment to a university climate of diversity and our obligation to ensure access and opportunity for all to participate in education and university life.”

The California State Student Association (CSSA, the legally recognized voice for CSU students systemwide, praised Ramirez as a student leader and advocate. He represents Fresno State’s 21,000 students on its board of directors and serves as the deputy speaker of the CSSA Multicultural Caucus.

Christopher Chavez, CSSA president, said: “Pedro’s situation underscores the need for Congress to pass the DREAM Act legislation … These residents have grown to become responsible, educated, and productive members of our communities. We cannot afford to reject bright individuals who possess the drive to become the teachers, doctors, and engineers needed for this 21st century economy.”