Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Latino activists march in Milwaukee, call for President Biden to act on immigration reform

May Day marchers in Milwaukee
Chuck Quirmbach
May Day marchers cross the Sixth Street viaduct in Milwaukee on Sunday, May 1.

Immigrants rights groups plan a day of lobbying at the Wisconsin state Capitol Monday, following the annual May Day march Sunday of more than 1,0000 people from Milwaukee's south side to downtown.

As they crossed the Sixth Street viaduct, some marchers chanted their opposition to mass deportations. "Up up with liberation, down down with deportation," they said.

Latino activists say deportations would be reduced if President Joe Biden and Congress got behind more immigration reform.

Chuck Quirmbach
Marchers go under under I-794, before turning east on Wisconsin Ave.

During a subsequent rally outside Milwaukee's federal courthouse, Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera said Congress has again failed to pass a measure. So, she said it's time for Biden to sign executive orders, including one to end the 287(g) program that allows willing local police and sheriff's offices to enforce some aspects of federal immigration law.

"That he use his executive power to pass protections for immigrant workers and their families," Neumann-Ortiz said.

Neumann-Ortiz also led a chant in Spanish, urging Biden to keep his 2020 campaign promise to end 287(g). "Biden — cumple tu promesa , cumple tu promesa, cumple tu promesa," Neumann-Ortiz and the crowd said.

Waukesha, Sheboygan and six other Wisconsin counties have 287(g) agreements with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

After the rally, Neumann-Ortiz echoed what some activists have been saying nationally, that some Latinos won't support Democrats in the fall elections if there aren't more steps to protect immigrants. "They (Democrats) have no one else to blame but themselves for the outcome in the midterm elections and future elections. They have to wake up and they have to deliver on the promises," she told WUWM.

Chuck Quirmbach
After the march, Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera, speaks to the crowd during a rally outside the Federal Courthouse in Milwaukee.

At a briefing last week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the president would welcome both Democrats and Republicans moving forward the immigration bill Biden introduced on his first day in office.

Biden has tried to end what’s known as Title 42, a Trump administration order that cited the COVID-19 pandemic to immediately expel many migrants at the southern border.  A federal judge has temporarily blocked Biden's plan. 

But Sunday's marchers also made clear their disappointment with Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, whose Milwaukee office is in the federal courthouse. Neumann-Ortiz said Johnson should have voted for Biden's recent Build Back Better bill that included money for immigration reform.

"And we felt it was important he be held accountable for his vote. Because too many people don't know how our elected representatives vote in Congress," she said.

Johnson claims Build Back Better would hurt the middle class because corporations facing higher taxes would pass along those increases to customers. Johnson also recently campaigned for votes from Latino businesspeople on Milwaukee's south side.

Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks at Sunday's rally.

Despite Latino activists' frustrations at the federal level, they welcomed new Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson to Sunday's rally. Johnson promised the crowd Milwaukee would be a welcoming city during his time in office, and to oppose efforts to frighten or scare immigrants.

Johnson later explained to WUWM that he'll continue a policy started under former Mayor Tom Barrett. "We have already laid down in the city of Milwaukee our desire not to have our police serve as de facto federal immigration agents. We have a responsibility to make sure we're protecting everybody," he said.

Monday in Madison, Voces de la Frontera will turn its focus to Republicans in the state Legislature for repeatedly blocking the restoration of drivers licenses and in-state tuition equity for immigrants.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, one several Democrats running against Johnson this year, is scheduled to join immigration activists at a state Capitol news conference. 

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
Related Content