JEFFERSON — Voces de la Frontera and the Wisconsin Farmers Union came through the Jefferson and Johnson Creek area last week while on a march to the state capitol to demand immigrant rights.
The group stopped Friday, June 25 along the Glacial Drumlin Trail between Johnson Creek and Jefferson for a press conference, attended by Gov. Tony Evers.
The nine-day march, which concluded Monday, June 28 at the state capitol, demanded the restoration of driver’s licenses for immigrants and citizenship for all.
The Voces de La Frontera march was part of a nationwide push by immigrant rights organizations to raise awareness, with the ultimate goal of calling on the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress to create a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrant essential workers in this country and their families.
Anna Dvorak, a spokesperson for the group, said the majority of these immigrant essential workers have been on the front lines during this pandemic.
As Congress negotiates an infrastructure bill, Voces de la Frontera and allies are demanding that President Biden act now to include citizenship provisions.
Voces and other allies also are demanding that the Wisconsin State Legislature restore access to driver’s licenses for immigrant essential workers and their families.
Guadalupe Romero, an immigrant worker in the food service industry, said he has been contributing to the economy as an essential worker for 31 years, but for that whole time she has continued to live in fear due to her undocumented status.
“As the mother of six children, I feel afraid every time I drive them to school or to the doctor, all because I don’t have access to a driver’s license,” Romero said.
Paul Vang, civic engagement director for the Hmong America Women’s Association, said that immigrants from Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and elsewhere make up a significant portion of the workers who labored through the pandemic, at some of the most dangerous and vulnerable jobs.
“The families who are still grieving the loss of their essential worker fathers and mothers to the pandemic are the same families who are still living in fear of deportation,” Vang said. “It’s a moral imperative ... to move quickly on citizenship for essential workers.”
Alondra Garcia, a Milwaukee public school teacher and DACA recipient, took part in all nine days of the march.
“It’s very important to me and all of our friends here that we get a path to citizenship,” Garcia said. “It hasn’t been easy. My parents immigrated from Mexico in 1999 with my sister and I just being two 1-year-old babies not knowing that we were from Mexico.
“As we aspired to go to college, we didn’t know we didn’t have a Social Security number,” Garcia said. “We didn’t know we couldn’t apply for the FAFSA (federal student aid.)
“It was very hard to pay for college,” she added. “Nevertheless, I made it. I did it for my parents because I know it wasn’t easy for them to leave Mexico and make a better life for us.
“Just because you’re undocumented, they label you,” Garcia said. “I became a teacher teaching our future generations. I am very thankful to be part of this march because I really think (immigration reform) is going to happen.”
The nine-day march began on Father’s Day, June 20, at the Voces office in Milwaukee with a celebration honoring immigrant fathers and lifting up the voices of the children of immigrant essential workers.
The stop in Jefferson County along the Glacial Drumlin Trail came on day No. 6 of the march.
From there, the group marched on to London, Cottage Grove and Cambridge, where they stopped at a dairy farm owned by WFU member Tina Hinchley on State Highway 73.
The final day of the march took the group to Madison, where they gathered at Olbrich Park to assemble for the final leg to the Wisconsin State Capitol. The culminating event included music, food and a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
Organizers noted that immigration issues are human rights issues and they should be of importance to everyone.
“Immigration reform is supported by a majority of people in Wisconsin-Democrats, Republicans and independents,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera. “Our state is gerrymandered and unresponsive to the needs of Wisconsinites, which is why we need Democrats and Biden to act at the federal level with bold citizenship for 11 million in Biden’s Jobs bill.
“This is a historic moment and we appreciate Gov. Evers, the Wisconsin Farmers Union, labor, faith, community organizations and people of all walks of life who are standing with us to call on Biden and Democrats in Congress,” the director said.
“We cannot have a recovery bill unless everyone is included,” she said, noting that millions of undocumented essential workers have sacrificed to allow residents and their families to shelter in place throughout the pandemic.
“If the people unite to demand it, we can get it done this year,” Neumann-Ortiz said.
Evers, joining the group for the Jefferson stop, added his voice to the call.
“Whether it’s working on farms or in meat plants, the Latino community has contributed to our success as a state for years and years, and they deserve basic rights to make sure that they’re considered citizens of the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said.
“I’m hoping at some point in time the state Legislature finds it in their heart to provide $15 an hour (and) provide driver’s licenses, to make sure that undocumented folks who want to further themselves by going to the University of Wisconsin can have in-state tuition,” the governor said.
“These asks are not extraordinary,” he said. “They’re basic. I sure hope we can get there at some point.”
Nick Levendofsky, Government Relations manager for the Wisconsin Farmers Union, also added his support.
He stated the Farmer’s Union’s grassroots policy, passed by the group’s members, supports immigrant farm workers because farmers know firsthand how vital immigrant labor has been to the Wisconsin economy, especially in the farming sector.
“The majority of cows in the state are milked by immigrant farm workers,” Levendofsky said. “The majority of the produce that is picked in this state is picked by immigrant farm workers. We don’t eat in Wisconsin — or in the world, frankly — without them. So we’re proud to stand with Voces de la Frontera, and we’re proud to march with them.”
About Voces de la FronteraVoces de la Frontera is a membership-based community organization led by low-wage workers, immigrants and youth whose mission is to protect and expand civil rights and workers’ rights through leadership development, community organizing and empowerment.
About the Wisconsin Farmers UnionWisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) is an organization advocating for family farming that has members from all walks of agriculture and life: from conventional to organic, rural to urban. The WFU empowers farmers to have a voice in the issues that affect them.