Hundreds of students from Madison East, West and Lafollette high schools and UW-Madison walked out of school today.
The walkout was part of a two-day action by Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin’s immigrant rights organization.
They had several demands. They called on the Biden Administration to use his executive powers to protect immigrants. They called on Republican state lawmakers to allow drivers license and in-state tuition for immigrants. And they called on school boards to adopt school lunch reform.
Students marched for over two miles this morning, from East High School to the Capitol Rotunda. There, students spoke for over an hour about their experiences as immigrants in Wisconsin.
A key issue: restoring drivers licenses for all. In 2007, the state Legislature took away the ability for noncitizens to obtain a driver’s license. That can impact those who do not have citizenship status and threaten their ability to work or go to school.
Jasmin Alvarado Reyes, a student speaker, talked about her excitement to get a driver’s license. But, she says her immigrant status took that away.
“The email said, ‘Unfortunately, at this time, we are not offering you a position at driver’s ed scholarship program. I hope you have a successful end to the school year and a great summer.’ Reading that made me angry, made me feel so rejected, my eyes got watery, but I held back my tears.”
But this setback did not stop her from protesting
“I wasn’t going to let them win.”
Mickey Mestiza, another speaker, said people try to tell immigrants that they don’t belong in this country. They try to make them a dreamer, telling immigrants that their goals are only dreams and they will never happen.
“You make us feel ashamed. That shame is the shame that we feel because of the way you treat us.”
They called for democracy for everyone.
“This is to our government, and I say our because it’s mine too, even if you want to deny me rights. Because this is democracy, and I’m pretty sure I’m actively participating.”
Speaker Kristina Newman said the joint finance committee was meeting as they spoke to strike items from the governor’s budget. One of those items? Drivers licenses’ for immigrants.
Newman encouraged the crowd to chant so the Republican lawmakers could hear them.
Primitivo Torres, a coordinator with Voces de la Frontera, , says the organization will continue to push for drivers licenses. Because that item was taken from the budget, they will look to pass a bill that allows drivers licenses for immigrants.
Stephanie Salgado, an organizer of today’s event, says uniting for this issue is important. . She says she used to be afraid of protests, but was inspired to act.
“As you can see, these are real stories. Even if it doesn’t affect you, you know of someone that it affects. Even if it’s not your reality, you know it’s the reality of others. And that’s why we’re standing here, in solidarity with one another.”
Protesters also called on Biden to fulfill his campaign promise to abolish the 287g program, and expand Temporary Protected Status and other protections for immigrants already living here.
And they had demands for Wisconsin school boards, to champion fresh, healthy, and equitable school lunch as part of the “School Lunch Justice” campaign.
Today was the second of a two-day May Day action. Yesterday, Voces de la Frontera led a march to the Milwaukee downtown DMV, to also advocate for drivers licenses.
Reporting for W-O-R-T news, I’m Abigail Leavins