Hundreds of students from Madison East High School marched to Capitol Square on Monday, joining statewide activists in a two-day general strike calling for action on immigrants’ rights issues.
The “Days Without Latinxs and Immigrants” strike began on Sunday in Milwaukee with a gathering of over 4,000 demonstrators. Both events were organized by Voces de la Frontera, a Wisconsin immigrant advocacy nonprofit.
Demonstrators marched around the Capitol before proceeding inside for a press conference featuring Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and other immigrants’ rights activists. Chants of “Sí, se puede,” Spanish for “Yes, we can,” could be heard throughout the Capitol.
“If you live here and call Wisconsin home, you are a Wisconsinite,” Barnes declared to a packed rotunda. “Let’s continue to make our voices heard, let’s continue to be engaged.”
Students from Madison East High walked out of class to join Monday’s protest in support of their friends and family, who they said have been let down by state lawmakers.
“We’re marching for many promises that many elected officials have made us,” East High junior Lesli Juarez said. “We came united to fight for a thing that benefits literally all of us.”
Protestors called for multiple immigration justice demands, but they focused on undocumented immigrants’ ability to obtain driver’s licenses.
Wisconsin passed a law in 2007 that requires proof of citizenship or legal status for obtaining a driver’s license to satisfy federal REAL ID requirements. Voces de la Frontera event coordinator Primitivo Torres said the law prevents undocumented immigrants from safely commuting to work or picking up their kids from school.
“There’s a lot of separation of families for simply driving to a store, driving to a clinic,” Torres said. “We want to make sure our parents and our students live free here without fear of deportation. These students are standing up and saying that’s enough.”
Demonstrators also called on the Legislature to allow undocumented immigrants who live in Wisconsin to pay in-state tuition rates at University of Wisconsin institutions. Currently, undocumented immigrants who live in Wisconsin are not classified as residents, meaning they pay tuition and fees at rates up to three times higher than other in-state students.
“Out-of-state tuition has given me a lot more challenges as far as being able to focus on my academics, being able to find more time for myself and my mental health,” UW-Whitewater student and undocumented Wisconsin resident Nayeli Govantes Alcantar said in an online testimonial for DREAMers Wisconsin.
As of April 2022, at least 21 states and the District of Columbia implemented policies that allow undocumented students access to in-state tuition. Wisconsin previously offered undocumented students a pathway to in-state tuition from 2009 to 2011 before removing it under former Gov. Scott Walker.
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @tk_kutz.