© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Living Undocumented In Wisconsin: A Student's Story

Aimeé Navarro Villegas poses with her two sisters at her high school graduation. "

Milwaukee is home to about one-third of Wisconsin’s undocumented immigrants — an estimated 30,000 people.  As part of our series about undocumented immigrants, we talk to a 21-year-old DACA recipient who's navigating the uncertain landscape.

Her name is Aimeé Navarro Villegaz, and she is a very busy college student.

“I am a senior at Marquette University. I am a Burke Scholar, a scholarship program that does 300 hours of service per academic year. I am currently the chair for the Dreamers gGla at Marquette University," lists Aimeé. 

And that’s not everything that she's involved in. "Anything that I do comes back to that giving people access through college education,” she says. 

Access to college is something Aimeé is passionate about. When she was in 8th grade, she witnessed just how hard it was for her sister to get into college. “She was, like, the best student. She participated in every single sport. She was a 4.0 student.” But Aimeé quickly learned that being a standout student and athlete would not be enough to get her sister to college.

“That's when I figured out that she would have to pay out of state tuition in the state of Wisconsin and there were no options for her," she says.

LISTEN: Living Undocumented In Wisconsin: A Mother's Story

Aimeé and her sister are both undocumented and seeing her sister struggle stressed Aimeé. As she went through school, her anxiety turned to anger. Aimeé attended a predominantly white high school through the choice program, which allows some students to attend private schools at taxpayer expense.

“I've done a lot of thinking about that anger, and I feel like some of it was justified." She continues,"This is where I cry.”

Aimeé gets emotional here. Her mother was working in residential housekeeping and her father worked construction, often in the suburbs. And she says she felt like she was seeing two parallel worlds. One, where she would see the privileged status of her classmates and the other where she would see exploitation happen to her parents. 

“Yes, my mother was agreeing to the terms of employment, but I understood that she didn't have the agency that was needed to consent to terms of employment. And you know, my classmates had housekeepers, and my classmates had gardeners. And maybe it wasn't them, but maybe a neighbor was exploiting someone that was too vulnerable to say 'no.'"

LISTEN: Living Undocumented In Wisconsin: An Entrepreneur's Story

Aimeé says she remembers one incident in high school where she was grappling with what to do about college. “I confided in a teacher who I had grown to be very close to. And he looked at me and was like, 'You're too white to be a wetback.'"

In 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced. The program is a kind of administrative relief from deportation with a work permit. 

Aimeé says she still remembers when people could first apply. People were rushing to sign up. But in order to be eligible for DACA, there are many requirements — regarding age and education, a clean record with the law.

There was one particular requirement that Aimeé and her family were worried about: “Being able to prove that you were within the U.S. from your point of entry until the present day.” 

Aimeé says that her mother was concerned about finding documentation that would prove that the kids had stayed in the United States. The main way to get that was through the schools. Aimeé said it was a desperate dash to the school office.

That was eight years ago. Now, the Supreme Court could decide whether to end DACA. With the fate of DACA being debated, Aimeé says she’s gone from anxious to angry to fatigue.  

“I'm exhausted and everyone else I've talked to is exhausted," she says. "I think we are all tired."

Aimeé says she often ponders the idea of repatriating, or self-deporting. She wants people to step into her shoes and ask themselves: how difficult the situation must be that they could not imagine a future for themselves in this country.

Angelina Mosher Salazar joined WUWM in 2018 as the Eric Von Broadcast Fellow. She was then a reporter with the station until 2021.
Related Content