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Wisconsin DACA recipients could get in-state tuition, professional licenses under bipartisan proposal

The legislation is aimed at solving the state workforce shortage, said co-sponsor GOP Rep. John Macco

a rally as part of National Day of Action to Defend DACA
Milwaukee nonprofit Voces De La Frontera provided signs for a rally as part of National Day of Action to Defend DACA on Nov. 12, 2019. Alana Watson/WPR

Some immigrants lacking permanent legal status who arrived in the United States as children would be able to access in-state tuition and professional licenses under bipartisan legislation announced Monday.

The slate of bills affects recipients of the federal DACA program, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which offers temporary work permits and protection from deportation for people who immigrated as children and fulfill certain requirements.

Republican co-sponsor Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview, said many of those recipients face hurdles accessing the work and educational opportunities that the program entitles them to. Removing those hurdles, he added, is necessary to build Wisconsin’s tax base and grow the state economy.

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“Wisconsin is facing a workforce shortage and a decline in enrollment across our universities,” he said. “DACA recipients are here … It’s time to get out of their way and let them get educated and contribute to the workforce.”

One bill would allow Wisconsin DACA recipients to apply for professional licenses to work in fields like nursing, teaching, engineering and building trades.

Another would grant DACA recipients in-state tuition status to Wisconsin colleges. Currently, they pay out-of-state rates, regardless of how long they lived or studied in the state.

A third would offer the recipients a tax credit to offset the fees incurred for renewing their DACA status every two years, a process that involves a lengthy background check.

“We should want these well-vetted, high-quality individuals in Wisconsin, and I hope that this will be an incentive to those that are out-of-state to choose Wisconsin over our neighbors as their home to live and work and start their families,” said Macco.

Currently, 24 other states and Washington, D.C., offer in-state tuition to DACA recipients, according to the National Immigration Law Center, and 18 offer some level of access to professional licensure, according to the Higher Ed Immigration Portal, a think tank.

Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, D-Milwaukee, said Wisconsin would lose highly qualified immigrants to neighboring states that offer those opportunities.

“As a state, we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and make investments in our labor force, only to have someone else in another state utilize that talent that we need right here in the state of Wisconsin,” she said.

A spokesperson for Gov. Tony Evers did not say whether he would support this package, but he included similar measures in his 2023 budget proposal. Those programs were later removed by GOP lawmakers.

Macco told reporters Monday that the bills are expected to go before committee next week.

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, did not respond to questions about whether he would schedule the legislation for a full vote.

The DACA program has been in place since 2012, and according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are currently about 580,000 active recipients. They are required to renew that status every two years, to complete high school or serve in the military, maintain a clean criminal record and receive regular background checks.