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Immigrant Rights

ESTHER: Celebrating 20 Years!

Justice, Hope and Action

Past events we'd like to highlight as part of our twentieth anniversary

Walk in our Shoes

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Walk In Our Shoes Logo

Walk In Our Shoes: Understanding the Latino Experience

The Walk In Our Shoes Latino simulation experience is designed to help participants understand what it’s like to live as a Latino in our community. It is a simulation, not a game. The object is to focus and sensitize participants to the realities faced by area Latinos.  In the simulation, up to 52 participants assume the roles of up to 26 Latino individuals.  The experience lasts from two to three hours. It includes an introduction and briefing, the actual simulation exercise, and a debriefing period in which participants and volunteer staffers share their reactions and experiences.

Voices of Hope - a Reader’s Theater

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Voices of HopeVoices of Hope is a reader’s theatre presentation that brings to life the stories of immigrants living in the Fox Valley through prose, poetry and music. Due to the limitations of in-person gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the presentation is now available as a pre-recorded video for Zoom and similar online meetings of your organization. The trailer, available here, will give you a glimpse of the content and format for the presentation.

Contact the ESTHER office (920-843-8083 or to learn more about how you can host Voices of Hope.

Directed by Kris Clouthier, the presentation is based on interviews from Peter Geniesse’s book Illegal: NAFTA Refugees Forced to Flee. It was developed by the ESTHER Immigration Task Force to help viewers identify with immigrants and understand the reasons why many endure traumatic journeys to come to America. This presentation shares the moral and legal issues associated with immigration and calls us to take a stand.

The individuals reading these stories are not the individuals from the stories; their names and locations have been changed to protect their families. The presentation offers the voices of those who live in the shadows, who cannot speak for themselves, yet live with hope to get out of the shadows and pursue their American dreams.

Immigration Task Force

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Below are some actions, events and learning opportunities that support our goal of comprehensive immigration reform. In addition to national reform, our task force is working in two areas: Wisconsin state driver’s certificates for resident undocumented workers and in-state tuition rates for all residents of Wisconsin meeting the academic guidelines for acceptance into our state's public universities, colleges and technical schools. Unless otherwise noted, events are free and open to the public.

For more information, or to be added to our mailing list, please leave us a message at

Legislative Joint Finance Committee in Appleton on April 1

No foolin'! The committee was in session in Lawrence University's Stansbury Theatre from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Opening to a packed crowd, the meeting offered opportunities for citizens and interest groups to share their views and positions on items included in (or omitted from) the Governor's proposed 2010-11 budget. ESTHER was well represented. Gwen Gibson and Rev. Maynard Beemer spoke (see photo) on behalf of earned early release and drivers certificates for immigrants who cannot get driver's licenses because of RealID. Representatives from JOSHUA were also present and spoke.

DREAM Act 2009 Reintroduced - Learn More


Bill S.729 DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act 2009 has been introduced and sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin (D, IL) and Senator Richard Lugar (R, IN) with 19 co sponsors including Sentator Feingold (D, WI). 

Learn More

What is the DREAM Act?

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The DREAM Act allows for children of undocumented workers that graduate from US high schools meeting the requirements for higher education to pay in-state tuition rates rather than international rates, which are out of financial reach of most students.  Watch this video about the DREAM Act.


Summary of the DREAM Act:

Amends the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to repeal the denial of an unlawful alien's eligibility for higher education benefits based on state residence unless a U.S. national is similarly eligible without regard to such state residence.

Authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to cancel the removal of, and adjust to conditional permanent resident status, an alien who:

  1. entered the United States before his or her 16th birthday and has been present in the United States for at least five years immediately preceding enactment of this Act;
  2. is a person of good moral character;
  3. is not inadmissible or deportable under specified grounds of the Immigration and Nationality Act;
  4. at the time of application, has been admitted to an institution of higher education or has earned a high school or equivalent diploma;
  5. from the age of 16 and older, has never been under a final order of exclusion, deportation, or removal; and
  6. was under age 35 on the date of this Act's enactment. 

Sets forth the conditions for conditional permanent resident status, including:

  1. termination of status for violation of this Act; and
  2. removal of conditional status to permanent status.

Authorizes an alien who has satisfied the appropriate requirements prior to enactment of this Act to petition the Secretary for conditional permanent resident status.  Provides for:

  1. exclusive jurisdiction;
  2. penalties for false application statements;
  3. confidentiality;
  4. fee prohibitions;
  5. higher education assistance; and
  6. a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report respecting the number of aliens adjusted under this Act.


Legislative Update!

Joint Finance Committee Passes Budget

In April, ESTHER and 9 other affiliates of WISDOM spoke out in support of in-state tuition and driver's cards for immigrant working families.  We are beginning to see the fruit of our work! 

Included! In-State College Tuition for Immigrant Students

On Friday, May 22nd the Joint Finance Committee voted in favor of in-state college tuition fees for immigrant students graduating from Wisconsin high schools. 

 Included! Driver's Cards for Immigrant Workers

The Joint Finance Committee 12-4 along party lines to approve an amendment to the state budget to include driver's cards for immigrants.  This critical step in the legislative process was the result of the hard work that has been achieved collectively by members of the Coalition for Safe Roads and supporters. 

 Read more about the importance of in-state tuition and driver's cards.


But WAIT!  We are not quite there yet!

LATEST: Driver's card amendment passes Joint Finance Committee 12-4.  Now we have to convince the rest of the legislators! 

Sign the petition!


Call your legislators and tell them to pass a budget that includes in-state tuition and driver's cards for immigrants and pass it FAST!

Ask them to support the Driver Card provision in the State Budget.
To find your legislators, click here: Who is my representative?
You can also call the legislative hotline at 1-800-362-9472.

Some Helpful Advice for When you Call your Legislators:

  • Give them your name and let them know that you live in their district.  They may ask for your contact information.
  • Ask them to support the Driver Card provision in the 2009-2011 State Budget.  Tell them why this is important to you.
  • If they support the Driver Card provision, thank them for being a supporter.




The Importance of Driver's Cards

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In State Tuition and Driving Card Talking Points

In State Tuition for Immigrant Students

The Problem: 

Immigrant students without social security numbers are not considered residents of Wisconsin and do not qualify for in-state tuition.  This makes higher education financially unavailable to thousands of dedicated, talented students who have lived most of their lives in Wisconsin and who desire to continue studying to positively contribute to our state.  Wisconsin is throwing away great talent and potential of students it has invested in for K-12 education, and creating a second class of young students who cannot continue to study past high school.  This institutional barrier has created depression and even suicidal thoughts for thousands of students whose dreams are cut short. 

 The Solution: 

Approve the provision in the state budget that will allow immigrant students to attend the state universities and technical colleges at the same in-state tuition rate as their high school classmates. To qualify, the students will have to: 1) Live in the State of Wisconsin for at least three years, 2) Graduate from a high school or receive a GED in Wisconsin, and 3)Promise to file an application for a permanent resident visa as soon they are eligible.


Driving Card for Immigrants

The Problem: 

In May 2005 the U.S. Congress passed the REAL ID Act, requiring all states to check immigration status before issuing a driver’s licenses or state ID, and to only issue driver’s licenses to persons who are US citizens or have legal status.  The state of Wisconsin, in anticipation of the REAL ID Act, passed a state law in March 2006 entitled Act 126, which took effect on April 1, 2007.   Under Act 126, undocumented immigrants and persons with legal immigration status who do not have a social security number can no longer obtain a driver’s license or state identification.  This law has had tragic consequences:

•    Restricting Drivers Licenses Hurts Wisconsin Families, Communities and Economy.   Immigrants make countless positive contributions to Wisconsin communities, schools, churches, economy, and culture.  For example, Latino immigrants make up an estimated 42% of the labor force in the Wisconsin Dairy Industry. To get to work and school, people are now forced to drive without a license or with false documents. 
•     Restricting Drivers Licenses Erodes Public Safety.   Without driver’s licenses, people are unable to acquire auto insurance, and many times cannot access proper driver’s education.   The current climate of fear and increased racial profiling erodes trust in local law enforcement, preventing many immigrants from reporting if they are victims or witnesses to crimes or participating in investigations. 

•    Restricting Drivers Licenses is a Financial Burden to Wisconsin.   REAL ID is an unfunded mandate that would cost Wisconsin and other states an estimated $11.1 billion to implement.  Insurance and automotive industries have lost the business of thousands of immigrants who no longer have licenses, and the state DMV has lost the financial contribution of people who are now denied access its services. 

The Solution:

Create an amendment to the state budget that adds a provision for a Driving Card for immigrants.  The REAL ID Act allows states to issue driving privilege cards to people who do not have a social security number.  This Driving Card could not be used for federal purposes, which under REAL ID is defined as boarding an airplane or entering a federal building, but could be used for driving and obtaining insurance.  Some states have passed similar measures, including the Utah State Legislature in March 2005.   The Wisconsin Driving Card is an interim solution in a longer term process toward repealing REAL ID and Act 126, and regaining full access to Driver’s Licenses and state identification independent of immigration status, the safest solution for all Wisconsin residents.  



Driver Cards and In-State Tuition Pass through the Assembly!

On June 13th, the Assembly passed Driver Cards and In-State Tuition in the State Budget! 

Next Step, the Senate-  

Call your Senators and tell them to pass a budget that includes in-state tuition and driver's cards for immigrants and pass it FAST!  Ask them to support the Driver Card provision in the State Budget.  To find your legislators, click here: Who is my Senator?

Senators in our region:

  • Senator Robert Cowles, (800) 334-1465
  • Senator Michael Ellis, (920) 751-4801
  • Senator Randy Hopper, (608) 266-5300
  • Senator Al Lasee, (920) 336-8830
  • Senator Joe Leibham, (888) 295-8750

Some Helpful Advice for When you Call your Legislators:

  • Give them your name and let them know that you live in their district.  They may ask for your contact information.
  • Ask them to support the Driver Card provision in the 2009-2011 State Budget. Tell them why this is important to you and your community.
  • If they support the Driver Card provision, thank them for being a supporter.

One more vote and a signature until victory! Sign the petition!

 For more information click here.

Victory! In-state Tuition for Immigrants in Wisconsin

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In the Wisconsin state budget agreed by the two houses and now signed by Governor Jim Doyle, provision for in-state tuition for undocumented students is included!  Wisconsin has become the 11th state to offer in-state college tuition to its undocumented students.

Thank you to all who gathered support from elected officials, agencies, rallied and phoned representatives in support of these measures. Hundreds of students each year will have access to higher education because of the work we have done.  Thank your legislators for taking this strong stand for immigrants and higher education! 

This victory is bittersweet.  We did not obtain driver cards for immigrants living in the state.  This recent work has brought about a stronger coalition including police chiefs, mayors, religious leaders, the dairy industry, associations of higher education, and more.  We have a stronger base to re-introduce this provision and we will press on towards winning driver cards in the state of Wisconsin.

 See Basilisa, a member of ESTHER, on TV during a recent rally at the Capitol in Madison.


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