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Latino Activists Fight Wisconsin’s Anti-Immigration Bills

The two proposed laws aim to invalidate sanctuary cities and local IDs within the state.

Last week's “Day Without Latinos” protest against the two immigration bills. Photo via Flickr user Joe Brusky/MTEA.

Given the immigration-related mudslinging of the presidential primaries, one might think state anti-immigration bills would be landing heavily on the mass media’s national radar. But with the primary races and the fight over U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's replacement dominating political headlines, Wisconsin's Republican-led anti-immigration bills have been getting very little serious media coverage or analysis.

One group, however, is working to keep these reactionary efforts in the news—the Wisconsin chapter of Voces de la Frontera. A Latino immigrant and social justice newspaper and activist group working out of Milwaukee and Racine offices, Voces de la Frontera has organized several “Day Without Latinos” rallies and “Voto Latino” campaigns. Their most recent “Day Without Latinos” rally, held last week, brought out 20,000 protesters and was aimed squarely at Wisconsin’s Assembly Bill 450 and Senate Bill 533.

Because the Wisconsin GOP controls the state government’s legislative and executive branches, rendering the Democrats virtually powerless, Voces de la Frontera’s activism has been particularly vital in the fight against the two anti-immigration bills.

Photo via Flickr user Joe Brusky/MTEA

SB 533, which is now headed to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s desk for his signature, would block city and county elected officials from issuing photo IDs to undocumented people or those who the lack documents to obtain a state ID. Local IDs could be issued, but they would have to say “Not for Voting” on them, and could not be used in applying for social benefits like food stamps. As the One Wisconsin Now advocacy group said in a statement on their site, this bill could negatively impact “immigrants, transgender people, the homeless, formerly incarcerated people, seniors, foster youth, and other marginalized communities.”

“For the first time, the state is dictating to counties what they can and cannot do with their own resources, regardless of the needs of the local community,” Christine Neumann-Ortiz, founder and executive director of Voces de la Frontera, tells GOOD regarding SB 533. “The bill is a bigoted attack on immigrants, transgender people, the homeless, seniors, formerly incarcerated people, and the thousands of low-income people in Milwaukee and throughout the state who cannot access a Wisconsin state ID.”

Photo via Flickr user Joe Brusky/MTEA

The second proposed law, AB 450, the so-called “Anti-Sanctuary Cities” bill now stalled in the state Senate, would fine local governments for prohibiting law enforcement from asking criminals about their immigration status. It would also fine municipalities for failing to report to or cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The bill authorizes the attorney general or the appropriate district attorney or sheriff to force local compliance in a circuit court, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.

Neumann-Ortiz says AB 450 would promote racial profiling. “[It] encourages police to investigate people’s immigration status and turn undocumented people over to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement],” she says. “The bill would make undocumented victims of crime, domestic violence survivors, and their loved ones afraid to contact the police. We are all less safe when thousands of community members are afraid to report crimes. We need to advance policies that build trust between communities of color and the police.”

Even Governor Walker, a Republican, said last week that the Senate should not pass AB 450, but instead concentrate on improving the state’s economy. Neumann-Ortiz believes that Walker’s latest statements on AB 450 show that pressure from all over Wisconsin is working. The support of the state’s dairy farmers, whose employees are more than 40 percent immigrants, has helped in applying this pressure. Neumann-Ortiz says Voces de la Frontera is urging employers, workers, students, and their families to sign an online petition asking Governor Walker and other lawmakers to oppose the enactment of SB 533 and the passage in the Senate of AB 450.

Photo via Flickr user Joe Brusky/MTEA

“Somewhat ironically, just this week Arizona’s state legislature voted down bills similar to Wisconsin’s so-called anti-sanctuary city bill and the bill blocking local ID card programs,” Neumann-Ortiz says. “‘Wisconsin Is Not Arizona’ has become a rallying call in farms, cities, and towns throughout Wisconsin in reference to Arizona’s racist, anti-immigrant SB 1070 law that ignited a national boycott of the state. It would be a disgrace if Wisconsin passed such laws after [even] Arizona voted them down.”

“If Governor Walker does not want Wisconsin to become known as an intolerant, xenophobic state whose government policies separate families and hurt the state’s economy,” Neumann-Ortiz adds, “he needs to commit to veto the anti-local ID bill SB 533 and commit to veto AB 450 if it were to reach his desk.”

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