Milwaukee marchers call on Biden to protect immigrant workers and families.

On Sunday, thousands of people from Racine to Green Bay marched about two miles on the south side of Milwaukee to downtown to demand that President Biden provide protections for immigrant workers and their families.

Milwaukee is one of 39 cities nationwide “to stand up and demand” that Biden do so and keep his promise to end 287(g), said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, in front of the Milwaukee Federal Building and US Courthouse, where US Senator Ron Johnson’s office is located.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 287(g) program gives local law enforcement the power to act with federal authority to question, report, and detain undocumented immigrants.

People head to South 6th Street during a march for immigration reform in Milwaukee on Sunday.  The event included essential immigrant workers and families, as well as faith-based, labor, LGBTQ, reproductive justice, and social justice community allies in support of immigration reform.

“287(g) legalizes racial profiling and transforms police and sheriffs into immigration,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “They prioritize deportation over public safety. President Biden said he would end it. He has the power to end it. And we are here to say: End it. “

ICE has 287(g) agreements with law enforcement agencies in eight Wisconsin counties, including Waukesha, Fond du Lac and Sheboygan.

“We fight for an immigration system that is humane, safe, and worthy of a nation built by waves of immigrants, refugees, and oppressed people who fought to make the American dream of equality and freedom a reality,” Neumann-Ortiz said.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said it’s important to realize that immigrant history is Milwaukee’s history.

He said he would stand up and fight with those trying to live a better life, whether they immigrated to the United States or are fleeing a war-torn place.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. “We know that when people immigrate to Milwaukee, they add vibrancy to our neighborhoods. You lift and support our businesses and help make our neighborhoods stronger and more stable. That’s what we should be looking to see everywhere in all this city.”

“We all deserve to be treated with dignity, no matter where we come from or who we are,” said Karina Tweedell, a Ukrainian immigrant whose family moved to Milwaukee in 2014 because of the war. “Instead of adapting to a system that is broken, we have to adjust this broken system.”

“Days Without Latinx and Without Immigrants”

On Sunday and Monday, Voces de la Frontera members and allies across the state participate in “Days Without Latinx and Immigrants,” a two-day general strike. More than 142 Wisconsin businesses have closed in solidarity, Neumann-Ortiz said.

Israel Peña, a migrant worker from Green Bay and member of Voces, has worked in the United States since 2008 for California wineries, in fields harvesting nuts and fruit, washing cars, in construction and in restaurants. He now works in manufacturing.

“In each of these jobs, I put all my effort and dedication in order to be able to support my family and contribute to the economy of this great country,” said Peña.

Addressing Biden, governors and other leaders, Peña said, “We deserve” immigration reform and driver’s licenses. “We have been working during the pandemic, risking exposure for ourselves and our families.”

A mariachi band plays as banners are held outside U.S. Senator Ron Johnson's office at the federal courthouse on East Wisconsin Avenue during the march for immigration reform in Milwaukee on Sunday.

Before Sunday’s march, there was a rally at the Voces office, 737 W. Historic Mitchell St., with live music, dancing, a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic and guest speakers. Around noon, the participants began to march towards the city center.

“I’m a pretty privileged person overall so I have to use that to help other people fight and be an ally,” said walker Emma Pucker of Milwaukee. “Coming here, getting out, it rejuvenates me in this fight.”

Milwaukee resident Rebecca Martinez Kemnitz and her nearly 17-month-old daughter, Jazmín, met with the downtown marchers to “support a vital part of our community.”

“The important thing is to recognize the humanity of people and try to create a better society,” she said.

“Even though we didn’t win immigration reform, our movement is stronger than ever,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “The majority of people in this country are on our side.”

Contact Hannah Kirby at hannah.kirby@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HannahHopeKirby.

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