Voces de la Frontera and allied organizations hold a lobby day at the Capitol. This was part of a two day call to action. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Over 300 immigrant rights activists with Voces de la Frontera and allied organizations gathered in the Capitol on Monday for the second day of the Day Without Latinxs & Essential Workers general strike. “This is a historic day,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, addressing the crowd through a megaphone. “This is the first time that Voces has organized a two-day general strike.”
“We want a welcoming Wisconsin that is free of racism,” Neumann-Ortiz declared, calling for the rejection of a policy that allowed the Department of Homeland Security to deputize local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law, the restoration of drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants and in-state tuition for Wisconsinites regardless of immigration status.
The Monday action rode momentum built the day before in Milwaukee at a May Day march, which was part of a series of actions across 17 other states.
Young people, including students who walked out of Madison high schools for the day, filled up every available space in the Capitol rotunda. The student activists joined business owners, essential workers, and their families. Walking out of class or taking the day away from their jobs, they stood in solidarity with immigrants and refugees nationwide. Monday’s action focused on two policy demands: Securing drivers’ licenses for all and equitable college tuition for the children of undocumented immigrant.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate told the crowd, “There’s so many obstructions that continue to stand in the way of necessary progress. We far too often see fear, we see hate, we see racism, and it is all used to perpetuate injustices against our immigrant communities. But we as a state, and we as an administration, have been and will continue to be committed to doing what we can to support everybody.” Barnes pointed out that Gov. Tony Evers has repeatedly proposed making drivers’ licenses available to undocumented workers and giving in-state tuition at the University of Wisconsin to all Wisconsin residents, regardless of immigration status. “That is a clear, and unequivocal statement that if you live here, and you call Wisconsin home, you are a Wisconsinite. And you should have every afforded opportunity to thrive.”
“By giving immigrants access to drivers’ licenses, we are making our roads safer,” Barnes added. ”We also eliminate the fear of working parents being separated from their children just because they have to go to work.” Likewise, making college accessible “will make all of our communities stronger.”
Both proposals were cut out of Evers’ budget proposals by the Republican-led Legislature, which is out of session until January 2023.
Norma Rodriguez, an immigrant essential worker who traveled from Wausau, stressed the importance of driver’s license reform. “We need to be able to move around,” she said. “We need to be able to go to the store, we need to be able to go to the schools, we need to be able to go to work.”
“We are the good people here,” she added. “We are the workers. We need just treatment.”
Brayan Carreras Garcia, a senior at Madison East High School who organized the student walk-out for the lobby day, said proudly that he will be the first in his family to attend college. At East 25% of the students, but few teachers, are Hispanic or Latino, he said. A senior-level class on Latin culture helped Carreras Garcia discover his own roots and who he is, he said. He fears ongoing Republican efforts to sanitize classroom teaching of certain topics related to race and ethnicity. He said that students like himself “will not sit by and let our history be whitewashed and erased.” He continued, “We demand to be taught by teachers who look like us, speak like us, and we deserve to know who we are!”
Keydi Osorio, a board member of the Dreamers of Wisconsin and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) student, described how the state’s tuition policy affected her. Osorio was brought to the United States by her parents when she was five and grew up in Kenosha. She never once moved out of state. She attended elementary, middle and high school in the Kenosha Unified School District. “I excelled in school with a 4.0 GPA,” she said, “and participated in extracurricular activities—all while beginning work at a young age to help my family make ends meet after my mother was deported.”
When it was time for college, Oscorio chose to attend an institution just minutes away from her house. Despite having lived only in Wisconsin since the age of five, under Wisconsin law, Oscorio does not qualify for in-state tuition. As a DACA recipient, she must pay out-of-state tuition, which roughly doubles the costs.
“My education must be paid completely out of pocket or I must rely on scholarships,” she explained. “That’s why we’re fighting for in-state tuition equity. We’re expected to pay more for a university education in the state of Wisconsin than someone we may have grown up with or sat next to us in high school for four years, because we’re immigrants.”
The lack of access to in-state tuition for the children of immigrant families presents serious barriers to education. “Many, like myself, can’t afford out-of-state tuition and finding the right scholarship as a DACA student is like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Oscorio. “That is especially troublesome for low-income households because paying for college is expensive as it is, being expected to pay double that cost is theft … DACA students are being robbed of higher education.”
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