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Politics & Government

As House Waffles, A Look at The Undocumented Picture in Milwaukee

Marti Mikkelson

Immigration reform remains a hot topic. The House continues grappling with the issue, after the Senate passed a bill earlier this year.

The plan would provide a 13-year path to citizenship.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson will speak to Latino residents on the issue tonight in Milwaukee.

Mauricio Galicia says he moved across the border when he was 17.

“I came to the U.S. to look for a better future for myself, to find a job. We never find a good job in my hometown in Mexico,” Galicia says.

Galicia says he’s frustrated he’s still undocumented, even though he’s lived here for 26 years. He says his life in the U.S. started in California – where he married.

The couple moved to Michigan and finally Milwaukee, always chasing a job. Galicia says, along the way, he’s found work as a truck driver and now earns a living as a self-employed construction worker.

Yet, he says, because of his status, he keeps a low profile.

“Areas like Mequon and Waukesha, I hear stories about the police stopping because of skin color, so I focus my work area here in Milwaukee instead of going out of the city,” Galicia says.

Galicia says he applied for a green card years ago, but missed a deadline.

Lately, he’s been working on getting his citizenship with Christine Neumann-Ortiz. She heads the local immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera.

Neumann-Ortiz says it’s hard to quantify the number of undocumented immigrants who reside in the state because so many live under the radar.

“Immigration estimates there are around 100,000 undocumented people in Wisconsin. I don’t know how to break that down for the city of Milwaukee. What people don’t appreciate is how undocumented people are not an island unto themselves but are totally woven into the fabric of our society,” Neumann-Ortiz says.

According to Neumann-Ortiz, many undocumented immigrants living in northern Wisconsin have woven themselves into the dairy industry.

She says, in urban areas, you’ll find many working in services industries.

“In the city a lot of the jobs are in construction, in manufacturing and in just about every kitchen in a restaurant you go to, in the hotels they’re cleaning the rooms, they are janitors, they’re doing the landscaping,” Neumann-Ortiz says.

Neumann-Ortiz predicts, if Congress passes immigration reform, people here would open the economic floodgates. She says many of those living and working here illegally, would suddenly buy homes, travel and spend more freely.

Susan Quam could foresee more stability within certain workforces – less turnover. Quam is spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

“It (would) give them more certainty so they also don’t feel like they have to constantly move from job to job every year they pack up and move to another part of the country or state because they feel like they have to constantly be on the move,” Quam says.

Quam says right now, plenty of employers hire undocumented workers, as long as they produce a social security number.