When Gov. Jim Doyle signed the 2009-'11 state budget, he also approved a provision, under certain conditions, allowing students who are undocumented immigrants, or the children of undocumented immigrants, to receive in-state tuition rates at UW System schools.
Students who apply for the in-state tuition rates must have lived in Wisconsin for at least three years, graduated from a state high school, been admitted to a UW System school and must sign a legal affidavit declaring they will seek U.S. citizenship as soon as possible. Wisconsin is the eleventh state to allow such a law.
The difference made by the availability of in-state tuition is stark, with out-of-state students paying over $23,000 in tuition and in-state residents paying roughly $8,300, according to UW-Madison's Office of Admissions. Undocumented immigrants are also unable to receive state or federal financial aid, making the decrease in tuition costs even more essential to greater educational access.
It was also recently reported that the number of applicants for the program is comparatively low, with under four applicants at UW-Madison and only 35 at UW-Milwaukee, which had the highest number. We believe more must be done to reach out to Wisconsin's undocumented immigrant community to make sure this provision benefits those who need it. Undocumented immigrants currently perform 40 percent of the jobs on Wisconsin dairy farms, according to a February 2009 survey by the UW-Madison Program on Agricultural Technology Studies, with that number only expected to increase. The students who pursue the in-state tuition provision are hardly alien to Wisconsin, but the sons and daughters of residents who propel the state economy.
Yet a distinct problem with the law is that it does not provide adequate safeguards to make sure students who are undocumented immigrants feel safe at college. When contacted by The Daily Cardinal for stories about immigration, some students have asked to be quoted anonymously or not participate in articles about the provision, worried that immigration departments or law enforcement officials might arrest them.
The small amount of applicants appears to indicate students are afraid of such reprisals and may instead choose the difficult alternative of faking residency to fulfill their college aspirations, something that will only lead to more problems later in life. We acknowledge the fact that such students are in the state illegally and therefore must pursue U.S. citizenship as quickly as possible, but we do not think the best way to solve our country's complex immigration issues is to punish students dedicated to improving their place in the world. And regardless of one's opinion on the immigration debate, it is clear the tuition program as it exists now is flawed.
It is this pursuit of a better life and better life for their own children that we think motivates such students, not a selfish desire to take advantage of state resources as some wrongly imply. Such aspirations are what helped to build Wisconsin into a great state, and we call on state lawmakers to give undocumented immigrant students the protections they require.