This afternoon, as traffic blew by on North Pinckney Street, a group of about a dozen folks were constructing an altar outside the Wisconsin Democratic Party’s offices. On the altar, also known as an ofrenda, demonstrators laid food, candles, incense and the photos of those who have lost their lives during interactions with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — ICE, for short.
Larissa Joanna, the organizer behind today’s action, explains the significance of the ofrenda and the message it was meant to convey.
“Día de los Muertos is coming up for many of us indigenous Mexicans and natives of the American continent. It’s a tradition where we honor our dead ones and our ancestors. Here, we’re honoring those murdered by ICE — either on their way to the U.S. or at detention centers.”
Wisconsin currently operates two detention centers — one in Kenosha and one about an hour away in Juneau.
Joanna continues: “Today we want to honor them and say that there should be a pathway to stop committing this genocide and violence against our communities. I come from an undocumented family. My dad was arrested in our home by ICE when I was 15 years old, and he fought through the immigration system. He’s now a U.S. resident. We believe that this opportunity can be out there for Dreamers, essential workers and the rest of the undocumented community.”
Sunshine Raynebow has been protesting alongside Joanna for the past several years.
“I’m a Queer, Black, trans woman but I stand in solidarity with the Latinx community, because we are family. All of us are family, and we all must support each other and uplift each other,” Raynebow says.
In the final months of the Trump presidency, the death rate of immigrants in ICE’s custody spiked. According to the agency’s own data, seventeen people died in their care last year — nearly double the amount that died in 2019.
Five folks have died in ICE custody so far this year.
Joanna and her fellow protesters say that President Joe Biden and federal Democrats haven’t followed through on promises of immigration reform made on the campaign trail last year.
“Democratic leadership — in Congress, the Senate, the Biden-Harris administration — has the opportunity to provide a path to citizenship for all. It’s an immigration reform that’s overdue — not just in the country, but the state of Wisconsin, where many of the essential workers working during this pandemic have been undocumented,” Joanna says.
According to CNN, Federal Democrats attempted to insert a pathway to citizenship in the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package — but were blocked by the Senate Parliamentarian, who is essentially as a political referee.
All photos by Jonah Chester for WORT-FM