On Wednesday, September 27, over 200 immigrant community members, agriculture and religious leaders from across Wisconsin met at the Wisconsin State Capitol to urge legislators to oppose the anti-immigrant bill AB190/SB275. The bill would give sweeping powers to local law enforcement and public employees to interrogate, arrest, and deport immigrant community members. The bill would also require local law enforcement to comply with unconstitutional ICE detainer requests. It is a copycat of Texas' SB4, and is very similar to the anti-immigrant bill defeated last year through the Day without Latinos and Immigrants of February 2016.
The event, known as “The People’s Hearing to Stop AB190,” was organized by Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, Family Farm Defenders, and Centro Hispano of Dane County, and was attended by 15 legislators or their staff. Afterwards, constituents visited the offices of key committee members Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), Rep. David Steffen (R-Green Bay), and Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere) to urge them to attend a town hall meeting on the bill and vote against it. Speakers also urged legislators to support a bill soon to be introduced by Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) to return driver licenses to immigrants.
"One night when I was 7 years old, we got a phone call that changed my life forever," said Isabel Martinez, 13, of Manitowoc. "It was my Dad saying he was picked up by ICE. This started a month of strange visits to faraway places to see my Dad behind glass. After these exhausting, heartbreaking visits, we went one last time to see my dad. On a cold and rainy day, we pushed through a crowd of praying, sobbing families into a small room and to my surprise there was my Dad. I ran toward him, but a guard scolded me to not touch him. I watched as my Dad was taken from me and chained to a line of other mothers and fathers. 'Don't forget me' he called as he was pushed onto a bus. It has been almost 6 years since I have felt my Dad's arms around me. The pain that I carry will never go away. So if you think of passing evil laws like AB190 that help separate families, I hope that first you think of me, and of the millions of kids like me left to pick up the pieces."
"AB190 would be a step backward," said Fr. Jim Murphy, the pastor of St. Thomas Catholic Church in Montfort. "Our local public servants are charged to protect our health and safety. Our new neighbors should not be made to live in fear that interaction with law enforcement, health or social service workers, or school officials could lead to separation from their families."
Fr. Murphy also read a letter from Iowa County Sheriff Steven Michek to his Representative, Todd Novak, asking him to oppose AB190 and support returning driver licenses to immigrants. "The issue for Sheriffs is how they can lawfully hold someone beyond their state charges for 48 hours for ICE to take physical custody of the person without violating their constitutional rights," said Sheriff Michek in his letter. "Case law around the country has found that prolonged detention without probable cause or warrant is unconstitutional. I do not believe there are protections substantive enough to protect local law enforcement from constitutional challenge that can cost my agency and the citizens of the county. On a separate issue which is just as complex, I believe there should be a way for a person who does not have citizenship to have a valid permit of some type to drive."
"Speaking as someone from Texas, I want to urge Wisconsin to not pass AB190," said Myrna Orozco Gallos, a Houston-based organizer with Church World Services. "Since SB4 was passed in Texas, we've seen people’s trust of law enforcement completely erode. After the hurricane, community members were not able to seek the help they needed because of SB4. People weren't going to shelters out of fear. We’re also facing serious economic trouble. Texas is poised to lose $13 billion because of SB4. Children are at risk of being asked about immigration status. Please heed our warning and don't pass this dangerous and draconian legislation."
"To ignore the contributions of immigrants to our society, the economy, and community life is to deny how America became America," said Wilda Nilsestuen, former Executive Director of the Council of Rural Initiatives and the Future of Farming and Rural Life in Wisconsin. "It shows ignorance of how this country can move forward. These bills are inciting fear among immigrants. Instead we need to again make driver licenses available to immigrants."
"I came to this country with my husband when I was 19 in 1999," said Lisa Esquivel, of Unidos por un Futuro Mejor in Appleton. "We have taken the limited opportunities we have as undocumented people and become stable, contributing members of our community who give back. My husband has worked as an auto mechanic for 15 years. The entire time I've been here I've worked part-time and raised 5 children, and I hope this year to obtain my GED from Fox Valley Tech. We oppose AB190 because it would discriminate against the most vulnerable people in society. We seek laws that are just. Trump says he is going to make America great again, but he forgets that we are America, too. And that is why we are going to fight. As Jorge Ramos says, “We will not stay sitting down, we will not leave, and we will not be quiet.”
I was proud to share the following statements from two Wisconsin Farmers Union dairy farmers. Hans Breitenmoser said, “I am a dairy farmer and an employer of hardworking, dedicated immigrant workers. I just cannot fathom why we are considering deporting people who add to the fabric of our community, both economically and culturally. Our longest-serving immigrant employee has been with us for 10 years, and is a critical member of our farm team.”
“I am also a Lincoln County board supervisor,” Breitenmoser added. “Our county just passed a wheel tax to plug the hole in our budget created by significant road repair needs and declining state support for local governments. Now the state legislature is proposing that our county sheriffs are supposed to do the work of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents? Where is the funding for that? Are the Feds going to do training and provide equipment? I don’t think so. AB 190 represents yet another unfunded mandate for local governments, which are strapped for resources as it is.”
“At the end of the day, real live people have to stand up and say 'enough is enough.' Putting the blame on immigrants is misguided and misplaced. I decided I needed to stick my neck out and say, ‘I’m going to take a stand for what is right.’”
Another farmer, who chose to remain anonymous, stated, “The type of people who come to the U.S. as immigrants typically have a lot of ambition and desire to succeed. That’s what built this country to what it is today. The immigrant who worked on our farm at different times over the course of 10 years has those same good qualities. I fear a sudden change in immigration laws or enforcement would harm his ability to take care of his family, including his three children. As an employer, I also fear repercussions from ICE and the IRS, which can be very intimidating.”
He went on to say, “Right now on our farm, we are getting by with additional family labor and two reliable high school employees. The very large farms would be the hardest hit by increased immigration enforcement, since they are the most dependent on immigrant labor. I’m not a big fan of that style of operation, but even then, I don’t think a sudden change is helpful. If something would drastically change in our immigration enforcement, it would be chaotic.”
WFU’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to oppose AB190, and released the following statement regarding the bill and its implications. “Farmers need a stable labor force and business climate, in contrast with the wild swings in immigration policy that we're currently getting from the federal level. AB 190 will mean that all of those swings at the Federal level – ‘yes’ one day, ‘no’ the next -- will be the directive for local law enforcement as well. Let's let the craziness stay in Washington, and keep some measure of stability and predictability here at home.”