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Milwaukee Latinos Are Expecting President Biden To Keep His Campaign Promises

Alex Wong
Getty Images
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20 in Washington, DC.

The 2020 presidential race highlighted just how diverse Latino voters are and just how important by playing  a key role in helping Democrat Joe Biden become president of the United States.

Latinos turned out in large numbers for President Biden, despite his role as vice president in Barack Obama's administration, and and they want him to deliver on his promises. 

Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera said for many Latinos the legacy of the Obama administration was one of betrayal.

"President Obama was coined as deporter in chief, because up to Trump, he had the highest number of deportations in U.S. history," she said.

Neuman-Ortiz was on the ground galvanizing Latinos to vote last year and shared what she believes was their motivation to head to the polls for Biden: "It was clearly because they were inspired by his immigration platform, which reflected a lot of the demands of the movement over the last 20 years."

Ahead of Biden's inauguration, Latinos in Milwaukee spoke about the issues they want to see the Biden administration deliver on.

Omar Flores is an organizer with Milwaukee Alliance against Racism and Political Repression (MARPR). He said he wants Biden to push for community control of the police.

"Give people the power to hire, fire and determine funding for police and also run investigations for police. This would differ from the FPC (Fire and Police Commission) in that people cannot be related to the police whatsoever. These positions are elected, they're not chosen by the mayor and the Common Council, that people directly vote within their district," said Flores.

Although the issue of police oversight and reform has garnered national attention, Flores said it is particularly important in a place like Milwaukee, a city that is 40% Black and 20% Latino. He said many people of color have died at the hands of police in the region.

"We've seen the death of Dontre Hamilton at the hands of Christopher Manney in 2014. We've seen Joel Acevedo be choked to death at a party during the height of the pandemic. In Tosa, we see Joseph Menza, that has killed three people and got away with every single one of them. This issue is very personal to Milwaukee," he said.

Flores pointed to what he calls a prime example of why there needs to be more direct civilian oversight of the police — not oversight by the Fire and Police Commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor and approved by the Common Council. Tuesday, the council voted to approve a federal COPS grant to hire 30 more officers. A number of citizens and activists have called for the city to reject the funding.

"We've been out there flyering against the COPS grant, and everything that we hear from the community, not one person has said, 'We need more cops', they say, 'Everyone I know needs a job'. Why don't they put money behind that, the streets even need to be cleaned up, that would be money better spent than more on cops," said Flores.

Valentino Quieles is an organizer with Los Brown Berets Milwaukee, a group that seeks to support and provide services for the Milwaukee Latino community, such as park clean-ups. The group will be demonstrating along with other activist organizations at El Rey on 16th street at noon Wednesday, calling for Biden to deliver on his promises for Latinos.

Quieles said something Biden could do, unilaterally, through executive order is stop family separations. For him, family separation is not something that exists exclusively on the border with Mexico but something that is closer to home.

"There's detention centers around the Midwest area, including here in Wisconsin, Kenosha," said Flores.

President Biden could act soon on measures that may please local residents concerned about immigration policy. Tuesday, a member of Biden’s transition team said Biden plans to announce a package of immigration proposals Wednesday. It will include an eight-year pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants and a processing program abroad for refugees seeking admission to the U.S. Republican lawmakers and conservative groups are criticizing the plan as massive amnesty for people in the U.S. illegally.

Their opposition indicates the measure may face an uphill fight in a Congress that Democrats control just narrowly. In a further complication, several immigrant rights groups say they'll press Biden to go further, and call for an immediate moratorium on deportations, detentions and new arrests. 

Angelina Mosher Salazar joined WUWM in 2018 as the Eric Von Broadcast Fellow. She was then a reporter with the station until 2021.
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