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Milwaukee: Hundreds march for immigrant rights on May Day

By staff

More than 400 people march in the streets of downtown Milwaukee for May Day.

Milwaukee, WI – As has been the case all spring across the Midwest, cold rain and winds greeted hundreds of youth, workers and trade unionists, community organizers and faith leaders on May 1 as they gathered outside the headquarters of Voces de la Frontera (VDLF) for their annual May Day “Day Without Latinx and Immigrants'' action. All told, more than 400 people joined the ensuing march that ended downtown at Zeidler Square.

The primary demands of this year's rally and march related to a number of campaigns being organized by VDLF and their student arm, Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES). These demands include drivers licenses for all, in-state tuition for all, school lunch justice in Milwaukee Public Schools, and an end to 287G, a section of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to deputize selected state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law.

The program featured many speakers. Attendees heard stories from community members about their journey to win their citizenship or the path that led them to seek asylum from violence in their home countries. Others spoke from backgrounds in organized labor, community organizing against police crimes, the youth movement representing both K12 and university students, and the faith community. All related their specific struggles to those of the immigrant and Latinx community which VDLF represents.

The Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression joined the action and spoke about the case of Roberto Zielinski, a man of Puerto Rican descent murdered by a Milwaukee police officer in 2021.

“We demanded the release of the footage, but the police held it for almost 50 days. And when they released it, it was heavily edited. So, we decided to put pressure on the city to create a policy requiring that video footage be publicly released within 15 days and for next of kin to have access to the footage within 48 hours. After two years, this policy passed two weeks ago, and it officially goes into effect today!” said Alan Chavoya, the outreach chair of the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression.

Chavoya continued, “For too long, the police in this city have mistreated our people, and they have been especially brutal against working-class African Americans. This policy will go a long way in making the police think twice before they act violently against us. We must recognize this as a triumph by and for the people of Milwaukee. But, as we say in the Alliance, the struggle continues.”

“The racist republicans in Wisconsin are taking aim at Milwaukee. They are trying to force Milwaukee to spend even more money on the police, money that the city doesn’t have because it’s about to go bankrupt. They say that police stop crime. Crime rates have actually gone up the more the city funds the police,” Chavoya stated. “You know what actually brings crime rates down? Better schools for the youth, better access to good health services, safe recreational opportunities, public services, and good union jobs! Today is International Workers Day, and we know that when the working class thrives, all our people thrive! For the working class to live well, we need strong communities capable of holding the police accountable!”

Another speaker, Ryan Hamann, represented the recently formed Coalition to Save St. Francis Hospital, a united front of labor, community, and faith-based organizers to challenge the Catholic non-profit healthcare giant Ascension and their efforts to shut down vital services at Saint Francis. The initial formation of the coalition was prompted by the Christmas-time shuttering of the labor and delivery unit at Saint Francis, the only unit of its style serving Milwaukee's primarily Latino and immigrant community on the Near South Side.

“The fact is Ascension is peddling racism when they close down essential services at hospitals like Saint Francis or Saint Joe's on the North Side, hospitals that serve Black and brown communities, while simultaneously investing in facilities in the rich white suburbs around Milwaukee,” Hamann said. “This is a pattern elsewhere where Ascension does business. But unlike in other places, Saint Francis has a union with a leadership willing to join together with the community to fight back!”

The final speaker of the afternoon was Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the executive director of Voces de la Frontera. She gave a wide-ranging speech that grounded the crowd in the history of May Day before diving into particulars about victories won and struggles to wage.

“May 1 is the day for solidarity with workers, and it has become a day of solidarity with immigrant workers and their families. It was 17 years ago today, in 2006, when mass mobilizations defeated Representative Sensenbrenner's bill that would've criminalized immigration, and it birthed the modern immigrants rights movement. And you that are here today stand in the same tradition as those immigrant workers in 1886 in Bayview here in Milwaukee who gave their lives fighting for better conditions,” Neumann-Ortiz said.

She continued, “This year we celebrate a victory, a product of our struggle. And that is deferred action for undocumented workers whose rights have been violated. With this new one right, similar to DACA, it provides drivers licenses, Social Security numbers, and work visas. And this is a struggle that Voces is now starting and will continue to grow so that workers can be empowered by these newly won rights.”

“On May 11, we celebrate the lifting of Title 42, a shameful Trump era program that violated international human rights and has been blocking asylum seekers from Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean from entering. And that racist order will finally be lifted because of us!” said Neumann-Ortiz. “We are here to send a message to all those in government and corporate America that we demand respect, and, lastly, we’re here to call on President Biden to use his executive orders to end 287G, extend temporary protected status, and create a pathway to citizenship. We will not stop fighting until we win!”

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