© 2023 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Eight Years Later, Immigration Activists in Milwaukee Still Seeking Reform

LaToya Dennis

Cold weather, gray skies and rain did not deter supporters of immigration reform on Thursday. They held their annual march in Milwaukee. As usual, the event began on the near south side. However, this year, the marchers did not head to a downtown park, but rather to the County Courthouse.

Organizers prominently displayed a large sign on the steps of the courthouse, calling on President Obama to stop deportations of non-violent offenders. County Supervisor Peggy Romo West addressed the crowd.

Credit LaToya Dennis
Immigration activists want President Obama to curtail the number of illegal immigrants being deported

“If you are not a felon, if you have not committed a violent offense, if you are not a threat to society then you should not be incarcerated you should not be headed back to the country of your origin,” Romo West says.

Romo West says the resources the U.S. spends detaining illegal immigrants could be put to better use. The immigrant rights group Voces De La Frontera organized Thursday’s May Day event, as it has for the last eight years. Executive Director Christine Neumann Ortiz says she has seen change for the good.

“Well in 2006, Congressman Sensenbrenner introduced a bill that was ready to be moved quickly through the Senate. It had passed the house, and President Bush was ready to sign it. It would have turned every undocumented person from a civil infraction to a aggravated felony. So that includes children. Anyone who’s undocumented would be categorized in the same category as someone who’s a trafficker, an arms dealer,” Neumann Ortiz says.

Ultimately, that piece of legislation did not become law, but Neumann Ortiz says immigrants who don’t have the right documents are still being treated as criminals and channeled into county jails, here and across the country.

“We can no longer ignore the fact that we have a really cruel system of deportations right now that has grown to 2 million under the Obama administration criminalizing hard working families and separating families,” Neumann Ortiz says.

Credit LaToya Dennis
Immigration activists are calling upon Sheriff Clarke to stop calling ICE on non violent offenders

Marea Veloz is 19-year-old senior at Audubon High School. She says she’s been taking part in May Day marches since she was 13. Veloz says she is one of many immigrants brought here illegally as children that President Obama is allowing to stay.

“What he did for us, it was good because for me, I was struggling to get work. And now with the permission wherever I work they always ask for my social security number and now I’m really prepared,” Veloz says.

But Veloz says she want more.

“And now I want that for my family. For my dad and my mom to work legally here,” Veloz says.

While hundreds of people attended Thursday’s rally, the crowd was a far cry from the thousands who took part in years past. But Voces’ Christine Neumann Ortiz says that does not mean the immigrant rights movement has lost momentum.

“That energy has gotten translated into building youth chapters that are very, very multiracial. It’s gone into organizing the Latino vote, which now in Wisconsin is considered to determine national elections. It’s gone into continuing to build a base of activists that are organizing in their workforce, in their schools, in their community,” Neumann Ortiz says.

Ortiz says at some point, the federal government has to act.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.