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UNC student president candidate hopes run puts focus on undocumented students

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Emilio Vicente says he is the first openly gay, undocumented student to run for student body president at UNC. Emilio Vicente says he is the first openly gay, undocumented student to run for student body president at UNC.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -

Most college elections for student body president get little attention outside of campus. But the race at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is making national headlines.

Emilio Vicente is one of four candidates for student body president at UNC. He's lived in North Carolina for 15 years, but he says his status at Carolina is an international student because he's undocumented.

Vicente says he's the first openly gay and undocumented immigrant to run for the seat.

"It just shows that undocumented immigrants are also part of different communities, and that we're active," said Vicente, who moved to Siler City from Guatemala when he was 6 years old. "I hope that's what the message is -- that we're already part of communities and a lot of us are already actively engaged in those communities, and we're trying to make a difference."

Because he's an international student, Vicente said he pays high tuition and does not qualify for government assistance. He said he pays for school through a private scholarship.

He said he hopes his campaign will have a benefit beyond UNC's campus.

"Win or lose, I hope this continues to drive the conversation of there needs to be reform in the immigration system," Vicente said. "We need to fix the immigration system."

The other candidates say the attention Vicente has brought to the race has helped them reach a wider audience too, and brought attention to more issues.

"It gives all of us more of a platform for things we care about, and so I don't think it's a bad thing," said candidate Nikita Shamdasai. "It's great that the university is getting positive press from all of this. It's great to run against an inspiring candidate."

Andrew Powell added, "It's been fun to be a part of this race since there has been so much attention, people have been paying a lot of attention. It's brought an opportunity for me to talk about issues that I really care about."

However one of the candidates said the downside is that much of the attention is focused on one candidate's background.

"The downside is that a large part of the race is now focused on candidate's background rather than the issues and the candidates' approach to solving these problems," Winston Howes said.

Still, Howes admits Vicente's candidacy has "caused a lot more students to look into the issues and make informed decisions on the direction they would like to see Carolina progress."

The election resulted in a runoff between Vicente and Andrew Powell, according to Vicente's media contact. The runoff election is planned for Feb. 18.

Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.  More>>

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