This afternoon, demonstrators gathered outside the office of Senator Tammy Baldwin to demand action on immigration reform. Numbering a few dozen, they blocked off traffic in a corner of the capitol square for more than an hour.
They came from across the state, as part of a national demonstration dubbed “11 Cities for 11 Million.”
That would be the eleven million undocumented immigrants who currently live in America. This particular leg of the protest was organized by Voces de la Frontera, a Milwaukee-based immigrant rights group.
Federal Democrats are currently hashing out the details of President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion Build Back Better Plan. Last week, President Biden announced that the plan would include $100 billion for immigration reform.
Exactly what that reform will look like is still up in the air, according to the Washington Post. Federal lawmakers are hashing out exactly what the money will go towards — and there’s even division in the Democratic party itself on what should be included.
Luis Velasquez, an organizer with Voces de la Frontera, says Biden’s Build Back Better plan may be one of the last opportunities to pass serious immigration reform for the foreseeable future.
“We find ourselves in a critical point, there is a great threat that the immigration provision is not going to be passed, so we’re here today to remind Senator Baldwin that the Hispanic and Latinx electorate was so important last year,” Velasquez says.
Latinx and Hispanic folks are a growing demographic in Wisconsin and across the country — and will likely be a key voting bloc for Democrats in next year’s midterm elections and the 2024 presidential race.
According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the Hispanic population in Wisconsin grew by 33% over the past ten years — and is now Wisconsin’s largest racial minority group. According to the Pew Research Center, President Biden’s job approval rating among Hispanics fell from 72% in July to 56% in September.
Velasquez also has a personal stake in this debate — as he’s a DACA recipient. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was established by President Barack Obama in 2012. While it protects folks who arrived in the country as children, it doesn’t offer them a path to citizenship.
“I haven’t seen my parents for many years,” he says. “To have DACA has been of great help. But it’s not enough — I have to apply for a permit to leave the country for an emergency. My parents haven’t been able to be there for the major milestones of my life. I graduated from college, and my parents weren’t able to be there. I got married a few years ago, they weren’t able to be at my wedding. And now, my wife is expecting and she’s due in April and they won’t be able to be there. This is something happening across the country with thousands of families who are immigrants.
Jung Woo Kim is the organizing director of NAKASEC Action Fund, an organization that advocates for immigrants’ rights. Kim is also an undocumented immigrant who has been living in America for 22 years.
“We’re saying citizenship for all, literally everybody,” he explains. “Citizenship is, we believe, basic human rights. It’s not like you have citizenship because you’re special. Without citizenship, you can’t really have basic human rights in this country — you can’t go to school, you can’t travel, you can’t get health care, you can be separated from your loved ones.”
“I’m an essential worker,” says Carlos Perez, one of those who spoke during today’s action. “I showed up the entire pandemic to work and I kept things going. Millions of people like me, who are immigrants and essential workers — we showed up, and it’s their turn to show up for us.”
All photos by Jonah Chester