May Day marchers seek tuition equity for undocumented college students

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For the ninth consecutive year, Milwaukee’s May Day march for immigrant rights wound its way from the heart of the Hispanic enclave to downtown, this time ending in a rally on the front steps of the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

The rally was held in response to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) practice of detaining undocumented immigrants at local courthouses, including Milwaukee Racine, Dane and Ozaukee. The immigrant rights group Voces De La Frontera (VDLF) organized the protest

Leading up to the rally, hundreds marched in procession, through a slow, intermittent rain, demanding an end to deportations, comprehensive immigration reform and tuition equity for local undocumented students attending Wisconsin colleges.

Legislation that would have provided tuition equity for Wisconsin “dreamers” (undocumented students who aspire to go to college), introduced by State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa late in the legislative season, was shot down.

A May Day crowd estimated around 1,000 made their way to the front steps of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. (Photo by Edgar Mendez)

Two additional bills she introduced, one allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and another establishing an optional state holiday honoring the late civil rights leader Cesar E. Chavez, were also rejected in party line votes. Zamarripa did receive some bipartisan support. Republican State Rep. Garey Bies of Sister Bay co-sponsored the driver’s license bill and Gov. Scott Walker expressed support for the Chavez holiday.

Still, “the bills never saw the light of day,” said Zamarripa.

Currently, undocumented students who attend the University of Wisconsin or technical college must pay out-of-state tuition, which raises the price significantly. At UW-Milwaukee in-state tuition for 12-18 credits is $4,650, compared to $9,514 for non-residents.

A previous version of the tuition measure passed the legislature in 2009 before Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 budget bill eliminated the practice of charging undocumented Wisconsin students in-state tuition.

Luis Jimenez, a student leader with Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES), a youth advocacy group, said he was recently accepted at the University of Wisconsin Madison where he’d planned to study engineering.

“But a letter of acceptance was not enough to make that dream possible,” Jimenez told the crowd. He said the out-of-state tuition priced him out.

“Is that fair?” questioned Jimenez repeatedly, adding that his parents have paid their fair share of taxes over the past 10 years.

Jairo Galan, of Chicago, said he understands Jimenez’s plight. Galan, who’s about to graduate with a triple major at Marquette University, was undocumented. But, after gaining legal status in eighth grade, he was inspired to pursue a higher education. Galan, who participated in the march with three fellow students, said others deserve the same opportunity that he had to dream big.

“Access to higher education is the key to the future,” said Galan, who said Wisconsin is way behind when it comes to immigrant rights.

Currently, 21 states, including neighboring Minnesota and Illinois, offer in-state tuition to undocumented residents.

Zamarripa, who is running for reelection in November against Vincent Synowicz, said she won’t give up on tuition equity, or the other immigrants rights bills she’s sponsored. Synowicz is the former president of the Walker Square Neighborhood Association.

Zamarripa said she doesn’t understand why the measures she introduced weren’t adopted, adding, “These are dreamers who want to pay their way through college!”

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  1. Celeste says

    I agree with Jimenez when he questioned the fairness of it. Especially when the individuals are obligated to pay taxes. I hope they see the long term effects of putting people in college who genuinely wants to be there

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