Two representatives announced proposed legislation to extend some rights of American citizens to undocumented individuals, a measure that could have significant implications for students looking to attend college.
After speaking in favor of President Barack Obama’s immigration reform initiatives in a press conference, Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, said Wednesday she plans to propose bills providing in-state tuition rates to undocumented students and drivers cards for undocumented workers in the state.
Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said he would not only co-sponsor both bills “110 percent”, but would also champion them. He said the bill for college tuition equity is about leveling the financial playing field for all students qualified to receive access to higher education in Wisconsin.
“This is just creating fairness,” he said. “The idea behind in-state tuition is that if a child comes here from another country, but does not have documentation, that person does not have access to the same tuition rates as I do for only the fact that I was born here and have a social security number.”
Zamarripa noted undocumented students previously were able to attend University of Wisconsin System universities and technical colleges until legislators chose to repeal that bill in the last budget.
Young Progressives President Peter Anich said the goal of the event was to outline the president’s immigration reform plan and ensure Congress fixes the problem through a bipartisan bill.
“It’s time that we get reform on this issue,” Anich said. “We were just
hoping to highlight the fact that we’ve got Sen. Tammy Baldwin on it. We don’t
have Sen. Ron Johnson. This is something his constituency wants and he should
Gov. Scott Walker’s spokesperson Cullen Werwie said the governor cannot weigh in on these proposed bills until he sees them in writing. However, he noted Walker has not supported such measures to grant increased rights to undocumented immigrants in the past as Milwaukee County Executive.
Zamarripa added an anti-immigrant sentiment still lingers in the U.S. among politicians who see immigrants as scapegoats to the nation’s problems and ill feelings against such groups have recurred throughout American history.
However, she said she feels such opposition to granting immigrants has faded, as seen by the nation re-electing Obama who ran on the platform he would allow naturalized undocumented immigrants born in the U.S. to gain citizenship after graduating high school and completing college or military service.
“That anti-immigrant sentiment we think is prominent is starting to fade and Americans are starting to be pragmatic and they’re realizing we have to do something about this problem,” she said.
Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck agreed with Zamarripa that politicians across the U.S. are reconsidering their stances on immigration reform.
He said Republicans in particular are adopting more progressive views to appeal to Latino voters who are representing a larger population of the U.S. each year.
“If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have said no,” Heck said regarding the potential passage of the bills Zamarripa and Goyke are floating. “People in Wisconsin used to be opposed to immigration reform. Now Republicans throughout the nation are reconsidering.”