Ever since I arrived to Wisconsin from Mexico at age seven, I’ve been fascinated by how technology makes our lives easier. I’ve eagerly followed every release of the iPhone, built my own computer and dreamed of working in the field. But after graduating from Milwaukee’s Pulaski High School in 2013, I realized I’d have to put those plans on hold. College was always financially out of reach because Wisconsin state schools don’t offer in-state tuition to undocumented students like me.
Although I’ve been able to cobble together enough savings working construction jobs these past few years to begin a software development program at a technical college, I’ve always aspired to attend a four-year state college like the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that offers greater opportunities, such as more advanced course work, job fairs and a wide alumni network.
The good news: Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed budget includes in-state tuition for all residents, including undocumented students. This month the Joint Finance Committee in the Wisconsin Legislature has been seeking public input on this new budget, and I’m urging our leaders to support in-state tuition for all.
If approved, the lower fees would make college much more accessible. For example, at UW-Milwaukee, in-state tuition for undergraduates is nearly $10,000 per year, compared to the out-of-state rate of about $21,000 per year. Although undocumented immigrants wouldn’t be eligible for governmental financial aid or loans — meaning many of us likely would have to work multiple jobs or live with our parents to still cover the in-state rate — we are willing to do whatever it takes for a brighter future.
If Wisconsin joined the 20 other states that offer in-state tuition for all residents, the move would not only help Dreamers, it would also bring major economic benefits to the state: $4.3 million in state and local tax revenue and $29 million in spending power that could be reinvested in the state’s economy each year, according to a 2019 report by New American Economy. The report also found that expanding in-state tuition would help local employers. With the state’s unemployment rate at a record low of 2.9 percent, businesses across Wisconsin are facing worker shortages that make it hard to grow and compete globally. For example, access to in-state tuition would help Dreamers like my sister — who is currently a dental hygienist — afford nursing school and fill a critical gap in our state’s health care workforce.
My family moved to the United States after a flood destroyed our small Mexican town in the southern state of Chiapas. We lost everything. An uncle living in Milwaukee said we’d be better off moving closer to him, where there were more jobs, so my family made the harrowing two-week trip to cross the Sonoran Desert on foot.
I spent my childhood watching my parents work low-paying jobs and resolved I would honor their sacrifice by building a more secure life for myself. The caliber of a four-year state university like UW-Milwaukee would allow me to reach my full potential, qualify for higher-paying jobs, contribute meaningfully to a local technology company and use my earnings to invest locally.
One day, I’d like to have enough money to launch a real estate development company as a side business. As a long-time construction worker, I know how to remodel houses and know who to hire to get the job done right. My neighborhood, Walker’s Point, is rapidly growing and attracting new people. We have a lot of old houses that should be remodeled, made energy-efficient and sold to neighbors who will care for them. If I had the capital to buy these homes, I could manage those renovations and make my neighborhood more beautiful. I also intend to fix up a house for my parents and give them the comfort and security they never had.
Dreamers like me grew up in Wisconsin, graduated from Wisconsin high schools and want to stay here so that we may give back to the communities that we love. We are residents, rooted in this great state and eager to thrive. In-state tuition for all helps us all.
Julio Gumeta is a student at Milwaukee Area Technical College, studying information technology software development.