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Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin’s Immigrants

Along with public sector workers, Wisconsin’s immigrant communities say they’re being unfairly targeted by Governor Walker’s policies

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DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: Public sector workers aren’t the only ones who feel targeted by Governor Scott Walker’s policies. Wisconsin’s diverse immigrant community is also feeling the heat. In one of his first decisions after being sworn in as governor, Walker mandated that all 72 counties in Wisconsin would now participate in the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program Secure Communities. The program requires local and state law enforcement officials to share the fingerprint information of all arrested suspects with federal officials to crosscheck for immigration infractions.

CHRISTINE NEUMANN-ORTIZ, EXEC. DIR., VOCES DE LA FRONTERA: Administratively, Secure Communities, the program that basically, you know, shares data of anyone who’s booked into a county jail with immigration, and even if you’re proven innocent or it was a minor infraction, is leading people to end up in deportation proceedings. And that program was enacted in all 72 counties in the state of Wisconsin in January 2011. No one knew about that. There were no public hearings. It was just something that was, you know, basically passed kind of under cover of the night.

DOUGHERTY: The governor’s recently approved Budget Repair Bill will also affect immigrant communities’ access to health care, as well as public and higher education. Included in the bill is a provision reversing a 2009 decision that granted undocumented Wisconsin students in-state tuition rates in the state’s public university system. Many undocumented students have lived in the state for most of their lives, graduating from Wisconsin public schools with aspirations of attending college. The story of Maricela Aguilar is one shared by many undocumented students across the country. She was brought from her native country of Mexico to the US without authorization at an early age, after her parents found themselves struggling to make a living in the wake of United States economic trade policies in the region.

MARICELA AGUILAR, STUDENT, MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY: When we were both very young, my dad decided to come to the United States because NAFTA had been put into effect and the markets were flooded with cheap American corn that was produced on agricultural–like, on farms in the US that could grow corn very easily and was therefore much cheaper than the corn that was grown in Mexico, and markets were flooded. My parents lost a lot of their sustenance. And so my dad decided to come to the United States illegally, and a year later, he decided to bring my mother and my sister along.

DOUGHERTY: Maricela says that reversing the hard-won civil right of in-state tuition rates will be just another hurdle faced by undocumented students who share the increasingly unattainable dream of having access to higher education.

AGUILAR: I mean, when you come from an immigrant family that is a working-class family, they probably have several other children that they also have to take care of. When you yourself are having a hard time finding a job, it just becomes extremely difficult to pay even the in-state tuition rate. So out-of-state tuition rates are pretty much impossible to pay off out of pocket. You don’t get any state financial aid. You don’t get any federal financial aid. Most scholarships exclude undocumented students. The ones that do are extremely competitive [sic]. And you can’t get private loans. So you’re looking at having to pay your way through school. And I don’t know anyone in my community that could pay off $27,000 a year out-of-pocket to go to school. So what we’re looking at is just a blatant attack on educational rights on Wisconsin students.

DOUGHERTY: The measures against immigrants in Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill are not the only legislative threat facing migrant families in Wisconsin. On June 8, Republican Representative Donald Pridemore introduced Arizona copycat bill AB 173, which would require all Wisconsin law enforcement officials to detain and report any person who cannot provide proof of legal residency during a lawful stop. Governor Walker previously stated that if he were the governor of Arizona, he would sign the anti-immigration bill SB 1070, though it is uncertain whether he would sign Wisconsin’s version if it were able to make it through the state legislature to his desk. Local community groups in Wisconsin have organized against anti-immigration legislation, as well as a number of other pressures facing immigrants. Milwaukee-based immigrant workers rights organization Voces de la Frontera is one such organization that engages in grassroots organizing around such issues as educational equality and workplace justice. Mauricio Galicia is a migrant worker originally from Mexico who works in construction in Milwaukee. He has been involved with Voces de la Frontera for five years and regularly attends the center’s various community workshops and legal clinics on workplace rights and safety regulations. According to Mauricio, the workshops and other forms of organizing serve as a critical network of support for migrant workers who may be more susceptible to abuse and injury in the workplace.

MAURICIO GALICIA, CONSTRUCTION WORKER, VDLF MEMBER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Our Hispanic community, the immigrant community, we suffer more exploitation. There is more neglect, with the owners not providing adequate equipment. I think as a consequence there have been more accidents on the job. I don’t know what Milwaukee or Wisconsin would be without Voces de la Frontera. We are all working hard to educate and defend the rights of immigrants.

DOUGHERTY: Migrant workers and families form part of the social fabric of Wisconsin while working and contributing to the economic life of communities across the state. For many workers who feel threatened by Governor Walker’s legislation, his declaration that Wisconsin is open for business is a misleading slogan that ignores the integral role of migrant labor in Wisconsin’s economic growth.

FERNANDO, CONSTRUCTION WORKER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I think as Hispanic people we work hard and help the country move forward. They should give us workers papers so that we can continue working. We are what makes business. I don’t know what he has against us if we only come here to work.

DOUGHERTY: Strong alliances have been forged in Wisconsin in response to Governor Walker’s ascent to power. Jesus Salas is a third-generation migrant worker who has been involved in migrant worker organizing for decades. He sees a number of parallels between past workers’ struggles and those of the present in Wisconsin, including the importance of identifying and mobilizing around shared collective interests.

JESUS SALAS, RETIRED INSTRUCTOR, MATC: Immigrant rights are workers rights. And I think this is one of the successes of Voces de la Frontera. In other states there has been some tension between unionized workers and immigrant workers. But I think one of the most effective results of Voces de la Frontera has been to identify the issues facing workers. Whether you’re an immigrant or whether you are a resident or a citizen, we all face the same situation in the workplace. So I don’t think here in the state of Wisconsin you have that tension. I don’t think–I think the organized workers here in the state of Wisconsin have been very receptive to the message of immigrants, so that when we go out on Labor Day or when we confront the issues facing immigrants, we stand side by side with organized labor. And when organized labor is threatened in the way that it was by Walker, Governor Walker’s bill to outlaw public employees, we stand alongside our brothers and sisters.

DOUGHERTY: Similar legislation has popped up in a number of other states across the country as the future and livelihoods of immigrant families lies in the balance. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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