The Immigrant Student Reality
By Erin Stalnaker
Proposed tuition hikes have UW students and faculty up in arms, and rightfully so. But the increase, while steep, is still only 7�o 9.4�depending on the campus and undergraduate or graduate status. So imagine the ire of students and parents alike if 2003-04 tuition rates increased 441�from $3,738 per year to $16,490. In this scenario, many students wouldn’t be able to continue their education and would end up in the non-professional, low-paying jobs traditionally filled by workers without college degrees.
The immigrant student reality
The Two Elizabeths
My name is Elizabeth. I am 17 years old, and a senior in a south side high school. I came to the United States when I was 12 years old; my parents, brother and I crossed the border with visas. Since 7th grade I have always held a 3.5 G.P.A. Now that I am about to graduate and want to go to college I realize how difficult it will be, since I am not a U.S. citizen. My long-term goal is to become an immigration lawyer because I would like to fight for the justice of immigrants. Now, not only my future, but also the futures of other immigrant students who are seeking fairness and opportunity are in the hands of voters.
My name is Elizabeth, and I am 16 years old. I am currently a junior in high school. Since I was small, my dream has been to be the first in my family to get a college education. Due to my legal status, it seems like a dream impossible to fulfill. I came to the United States eight years ago with my family because of poverty in Mexico. Living there, it became harder for my parents to pay for our expenses. My father decided that the best thing to do would be to cross the border illegally so he could work to send money to my mother in Mexico. When I came to this country, I knew I wanted to change my social structure and confront the stereotypes of Latinos in this country. I have a 3.0 GPA, and I enjoy volunteering. I want to become a productive adult member of my community; without an education, it is more likely that I will work in a low paying job.
Two voices among many
These are the voices of but two of the thousands of bright immigrant students who have the ability and the desire to go on to college, but cannot under current policy. As a general practice, our society does not punish children for the deeds of their parents – at ages 8 and 12, these students had no part in their parent’s decision to move to the United States. The catch 22 is that the traditional avenues of obtaining permanent legal residency – family and employment sponsorship – are closed to these students.
Last month, State Representative and Milwaukee mayoral candidate Pedro ColÃ³n introduced State Assembly Bill 95. This legislation would allow non-resident immigrant students to attend Wisconsin State Technical Colleges and UW System schools at in-state tuition rates. To be eligible for in-state tuition under the proposed legislation, the student 1) must have been continuously present in the state of Wisconsin at least one year before graduating from a Wisconsin high school and 2), provide affidavits upon application to institutions in the UW System that he or she has filed their application for permanent residency.
In1982, the United States Supreme Court held in Plyer v. Doe that a state may not deny school age undocumented immigrant students the right to free public K-12 education. The court ruled that all school age children under 18 are entitled by the equal protection clause of our constitution to “a free and appropriate public education.” But for the 50-65,000 immigrant students who graduate from US high schools every year, the extremely high out-of-state tuition rates make going on to college an impossibility.
Considering Wisconsin’s notoriously low high school graduation rate for students of color, taking away the incentive for immigrant students to graduate makes little sense. It makes even less sense in light of a 1998 Rand Corporation report that found that as little as a 3�ncrease in college completion by today’s Latino 18 year olds would increase projected social insurance payments by $600 million. The future stability of Wisconsin’s economy depends on a well-trained, well-educated workforce. By this standard alone, denying and limiting access to higher education for an entire population of high-achieving students and future taxpayers can be judged detrimental to the state’s economic development.
The Elizabeths and the 65,000 other immigrant students in Wisconsin who will graduate from high school this year deserve the opportunity to continue their educations. Constituents of every state congressional district are encouraged to contact their representatives, attend budget hearings, and tell their elected officials that it makes no sense to punish the state economy or students with great potential by denying them access to postsecondary education.
For more information, contact Voces de la Frontera Workers’ Center at 414.643.1620 or the Milwaukee Interfaith Council Allied for Hope at 414.264.0805 and take part in ensuring educational justice for immigrant students.