In his very first biennial budget proposal in 2011, newly elected Governor Scott Walker outlawed undocumented immigrant students from paying in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in Wisconsin. After a decade of struggle, undocumented students and their allies had triumphed in 2010 with the passage of in-state tuition into law.
Walker’s budgetary prohibition was by no means an economic measure. Opponents of in-state tuition had argued that the measure would “cost” the state, because, they presumed, if it did not pass, undocumented students would attend public institutions at the much higher, out-of-state rates. But this was a fallacious argument. Most undocumented students can’t afford the out-of-state rate, and without in-state tuition, either don’t attend college or seek other alternatives. Tuition paid by undocumented students generates revenue for the state; it does not take it away.
If it didn’t save the state any money, the budgetary measure that made in-state tuition off limits to undocumented students did send a clear message to immigrant communities: not welcome here. Along with other policy initiatives, such as terminating the Chapter 220 program and having the state take over only the mostly Black and Latino/a Milwaukee Public Schools with the clear intention to privatize many of them under the voucher plan (Bob Peterson on both of these: http://stopmpstakeover.com/2015/05/29/mps-takeover-a-failed-idea-will-fail-milwaukees-kids/), proscribing in-state tuition is part of shoring up white supremacy in Wisconsin.
The Omnibus Measure for UW approved by the Joint Finance Committee last week (JFC’s omnibus bill) continues in this same vein. It extends the policy of budgetary deportation, creating new mechanisms to further limit and intimidate undocumented students.
Since 2011, undocumented students who want to attend UW have had to apply, each year, for tuition remissions. In 2004, then Regent and longtime activist Jesus Salas led a successful campaign to pass a resolution allowing UW campuses to consider undocumented students for in-state tuition remissions. Under the resolution, undocumented students from Wisconsin may apply to compete with out-of-state students for a finite amount of tuition waivers that allow them to pay at in-state rates.
There are considerable obstacles that prevent undocumented students from even applying for these waivers. Many are not made aware of the possibility. Salas himself resigned from the Board of Regents in 2007, protesting the increasing inaccessibility of higher education to working class students and students of color. But every year, there is a handful of undocumented students who are admitted to UW colleges and universities and who successfully navigate the complicated process of applying for in-state tuition.
In the current Omnibus Measure, “nonresident tuition remissions” receive a good deal of attention. This seems odd, given that the UW system is increasingly reliant on out-of-state tuition to generate revenue in the absence of support by state appropriations. But Section 27 lays out grounds for tuition remissions: merit, as shown by “continued high standards of scholastic attainment” ; athletic scholarships; and then a third, more open category that includes those who the Board deems “deserving of relief.” While this third category could potentially include undocumented students, they are never mentioned specifically, as they are in the 2004 Regents resolution. This section clearly intends to obscure or even replace the now decade-old language allowing some undocumented students access to in-state tuition.
Even more potentially damaging to undocumented students, section 63 changes state policy to allow social security numbers to be used for student IDs. Currently, President Obama’s Executive Policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) allows undocumented young people access to social security numbers. Such Executive Actions are unpopular with many Republicans; they are seen as “pandering” to immigrants.
Section 63 clearly anticipates and lays the foundation for a post-DACA world, in which undocumented students who would not have access to social security numbers would be compelled to provide them for use as a student ID number, on private as well as public campuses. This would effectively bar them from enrolling in UW. What is proposed under the guise of fiscal policy, then, is nothing less than a deportation program to ensure that undocumented students stay out of institutions of higher education.
The current JFC Omnibus Measure continues the tradition of using budgetary planning as a steamroller for public policy. Many of its measures will heighten already grave levels of racial inequality. The budget cuts and policy changes proposed will make education far less accessible to all students in our state. These policies advance a coherent platform of white supremacy and inequality.