Three Dreamers Talk About the Impact of Paying
Taxation, No Representation
|Karen Perez-Wilson (l-r), Alondra Quechol-Ramirez and Gilberto
Osuna-Leon are life-long Wisconsin residents who are forced to
pay out-of-state tuition at state universities.
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
By Jonathan Gramling
It’s a kind of taxation and no representation. One set of students has lived in Wisconsin since
they were three-years old. They graduate from their hometown Wisconsin high schools. And they
have to pay out-of-state tuition for UW System universities.
On the other hand, there are students who graduate, let’s say, from a New York City high school
where they grew up. After high school, they move to Madison for a year and work after which
they can pay in-state tuition for UW System universities.
What’s the difference? The former group of students are DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood
Arrivals — students. Their parents are undocumented workers and they were brought here by
their parents at an early age. The only state they know is Wisconsin. The only country they know
is the United States.
Karen Perez-Wilson’s parents and she have worked for most of their lives in restaurants and doing other odd jobs. While most of their pay has been “under the
table,” they have paid property and sales taxes for almost 20 years. Having to pay out-of-state tuition has been a hardship for Perez-Wilson who received her
undergraduate degree in May.
“It’s not like just a couple of hundred dollars difference,” Perez-Wilson said. “Out-of-state tuition full-time student pays close to $30,000 compared to in-state tuition,
which is about $8,000.My first semester at UW-Madison, I was taking a two-credit course. That course cost almost $3,000. I couldn’t even complete the semester
because my account was placed on hold. I was forced to take time off. One semester turns into two years. And those are two years that I could have used to start my
Alondra Quechol-Ramirez, a student at UW-Milwaukee, is the oldest child in her family and is the first to receive DACA status, allowing her to work legally in the
United States while she attends school.
She feels an added responsibility to help her family survive.
“My first job was actually at Pick N Save,” Quechol-Ramirez said. “From there, my dad just told me, ‘What you have in your hands now is something that I don’t have
and that your mom doesn’t have and 11 million other people don’t have because they are undocumented. So work when you can, but don’t overwork yourself. That
has always stuck in the back of my head. Being the oldest, I’ve always wanted to provide for my family and help them not only academically, but also mentally and
physically, whatever they needed. It’s not just an issue of social-economic status. It’s also an issue of mental health, looking at the stability of your own parents and
the ones after you, namely my siblings. I’ve always been there for them. But yes, being a part of that responsibility, it’s also like I’m taking care of then, but with all of
that pressure, it gets offloaded on me. And who is going to be there for me? I have no regrets. I was able to help my family this way.”
In some ways, the DACA students have to become their own advocates and fundraisers on top of working part-time and studying. It takes a lot of effort to raise funds
that most students don’t need to raise.
“I went to Karen Coller, the director of Centro Hispano, and I asked her for advice because I didn’t know how I was going to afford UW-Madison out-of-state tuition,”
said Gilberto Osuna-Leon who is currently enrolled at UW-Madison. “I would save the cost of living elsewhere if I stayed here, but I would have to pay the $30,000,
which is now $36,000 for out-of-state tuition. But I decided to take that route. I applied to UW-Madison and got in. I approached Karen Coller and she basically made it
her mission for the scholarships at Centro Hispano to raise the funds that we all needed to go to the university. She invited me and Alondra and maybe Karen in
some instances to go to some houses where private donors would hear our stories. If we would inspire them — I don’t know what we did exactly — they thought it
was worth the investment to donate. We were able to get $10,000 each. I also received a scholarship called the Roberto Sanchez Scholarship at UW-Madison that I
was also eligible for. I don’t know if I qualified for any other scholarship there. That funded my first year. I recently just received the Jesus Sala Scholarship, which is
from the CLS Department at the university. It took a lot of getting involved in our community.”
Indeed if there weren’t a community of supporters in the Latino community and beyond who were willing to put their money where their mouths were, the future of
these three scholars would be uncertain.
“It is something that would have absolutely not been possible without the support of the community,” Perez-Wilson said. “We’re not the only ones going through this.
There are a lot of other students who just can’t qualify for in-state tuition despite the fact that they have been living here most of their lives. Retelling our stories and
making people aware that we don’t want freebies. We just want an equal chance for us to get our education. It’s been very difficult, but it has also been very
rewarding because you community has your back. That is something that I take with me. As I finished my undergrad journey, I realize that my community has really
been my backbone through this entire process. I have reached out and they have never failed me. And they have always been there for me. That has really lighted
the way for me to get to the end of this. Now I hold that responsibility and now that I have a bachelor’s degree, it is my turn to help others come after me and make
sure that their journey isn’t as long as mine was. A lot of people ask, ‘Why did it take you seven years?’ It took me seven years because I just couldn’t afford to pay
out-of-state tuition costs. My time could have been reduced if we did have in-state tuition. We can only hope that the future generation and incoming classes don’t
have to go through the hardships we have gone through.”
All three students are hoping that Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is able to push through legislation that will allow DACA students to receive in-state tuition. But
they know that it is going to take both sides of the aisle to see that this measure is in Wisconsin’s best interest.
“On my side, I’m just really calling upon the other side of the spectrum, the Republicans, to not just only let themselves be compelled by what others have to say,”
Quechol-Ramirez said. “We want them to actually look at the Pew Research Center reports and see how many folks we have today within our own community and
how that is only going to be growing more and more as time progresses. For them to say that we’re not the right people, that we are only bringing crime, that is a big
lie. Again, if you look at it, we’re the biggest boost in the economy. For us to not progress in our education and pushing us down and having the future doctors and
the future lawyers, psychologists, and educators, you name it, our not progressing hurts the community. We have to start thinking and taking radical action and not
just being brainwashed by what media has to say. Again that’s something we always look upon. And if we are going to stick to our favorite channel for that, we’re
always watching and consuming the same story again. We want the Republicans to have an open mind and make change or else we are going to stay right there and
not go any further.”
Perez-Wilson also wants the legislature to take action.
“I am really calling upon our local governments to take immediate action on in-state
tuition for undocumented students because everyone is deserving of an education,”
Perez-Wilson said. “Imagine how many brilliant minds we are not representing within
our education system because we are not just making it accessible. I’m very fortunate
that I had an immense support system to help guide me. But the reality is not everyone
has that. I recognize the privileges that I hold, being able to speak English and now
having my bachelor’s degree. But I want to make sure that everyone also gets that
opportunity. We need to create more spaces for incoming leaders to emerge and
become what we have been very fortunate to become in our community.”
Osuna-Leon will graduate next year from UW-Madison with a degree in political science
and plans to enter medical school. What a tragedy it is that other DACA students may
not have that opportunity because of the in-state tuition laws. What a loss to the state it