Voces de la Frontera began life in 1995 as the name of a bilingual newspaper in Austin, Texas, subtitled ‘a voce of the voiceless’ and championing immigrant rights and wider social justice issues.
It was edited by Christine Neumann-Ortiz and allied itself to the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras (multinational factories in Mexican border towns).
In 1998, both Christine and the newspaper relocated to Wisconsin, where they continued to turn the spotlight on injustice and steadily helped build the emerging immigrant rights movement. By 2000, Voces de la Frontera initiated a statewide campaign to fight for the legalization of undocumented workers in the United States.
These organizing efforts also called attention to the need for a workers’ center that could respond to the immediate problems that confronted low wage and immigrant workers.
Voces de la Frontera’s Milwaukee Workers’ Center opened its doors in 2001 and was initially run by volunteers.
In 2004, we grew significantly with the opening of an additional office in Racine and the formation a student chapter, Students United for Immigrant Rights (SUFRIR).
From 2005, Voces strengthened further with expanded funding and the appointment of additional staff, including Christine Neumann-Ortiz as the organization’s first Executive Director.
Later that year, Voces de la Frontera mobilized tens of thousands in a campaign against the Sensenbrenner bill’s attack on drivers licenses for immigrant workers.
In 2006, against the backdrop of local immigration raids, Voces de la Frontera led three high profile marches.
30,000 took to the streets to call for immigration reform in March, more than 70,000 mobilized for ‘A Day without Latinos’ on May 1, and 25,000 joined the Milwaukee Labor Day Parade in a powerful demonstration of worker solidarity. These actions, and others around the country, made a peaceful yet powerful statement for the immigrant rights movement.
In the Fall elections, Voces de la Frontera’s ‘Voto Latino’ campaign helped convert the energy of the mass marches into a 32% increase in voter turnout in target areas of Milwaukee and a 20% increase in Racine.
In 2007, as the fight for comprehensive immigration reform continued, over 80,000 from across Wisconsin marched for a second ‘Day Without Latinos’ – the state’s largest ever demonstration. More than 120 local business closed in solidarity.
After reform died in Congress that summer, communities faced an increasingly harsh climate, including stepped up raids and a new attack through ‘No Match’ letters. Voces de la Frontera was one of leading national organizations in mobilizing against the proposed rule in Fall 2007.
During 2008, with a new Presidency and Congress coming within sight, we resumed our efforts to increase the Latino turnout in Milwaukee and Racine, launching a massive registration drive. Our May 1st demonstration, again the largest in the country, carried a clear message for the new president on the urgency of immigration reform: ‘First 100 Days’.
In 2009, in-state tuition for undocumented students bill was passed, making Wisconsin the 11th state in the country to offer in-state tuition rates to immigrant students. This was won through the 2009-09-budget process and was one of the largest pro-immigrant, statewide policy changes won in the country
Voces also built new alliances throughout state with dairy farmers and law enforcement endorsements for drivers’ card, which delivered respective legislative support throughout state.
In February 2010, we saw the launch of Voces’ youth arm, Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES!) to replace both of the preceding student groups, Students United for Immigrant Rights (SUFRIR) and Students United in the Struggle (SUITS).
YES the a youth-led, multicultural social justice group that struggles for student, immigrant, and worker rights now currently has chapters at 12 high schools and 3 universities (Marquette University, UW-Parkside, and UW-Milwaukee).
In 2010, Driver’s Card for Immigrants was an on-going pro-immigrant issue Voces worked on. While legislation was not introduced in 2010 research and ally building was conducted; including http://vdlf.org/wp-admin/post.php?post=48&action=edit#visibilitythe “Safe Roads, Safe Communities Tour” organized by the state-wide coalition for Safe Roads (which Voces staffs).
This was a series of 5 community forums in strategic districts around Wisconsin in the fall to build grassroots support for the measure and educate about the adverse affects of using local law-enforcement for immigration enforcement.
Voces New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) has strengthened tremendously in the past few years.
We provide direct advocacy to immigrants and family members facing detention/deportation by connecting them to legal resources, helping navigate the system, helping plan for returning to country of origin, transportation and support to immigration court, civil rights training, emergency planning, referral to community services, a peer-led support group and monthly prayer vigils.
In 2011, Voces influenced the Milwaukee County Board to make a resolution limiting law-enforcement cooperation with ICE (the so-called “Secure Communities MOU”) to referring only those with criminal convictions.
During this year, over 1000 students across the state worked with Voces’ YES Youth group to develop a Student Bill of Rights, which was unanimously approved by the Milwaukee School Board and will be incorporated in the Milwaukee Public Schools handbook for school year 2012-2013.
Additionally, when tuition equality for all students was eliminated in early 2011, delegations of YES students and Voces’ leadership met with the chancellors of local colleges and universities. As a result, UW-Milwaukee, one of the largest schools in the state, agreed to charge in-state tuition to undocumented students. Other local technical colleges and universities have followed suit.
In May 2011, our annual May Day Solidarity March drew 100,000 people to the streets of Milwaukee, marching for the rights immigrants, workers, and students and protesting our broken immigration system and anti-immigrant policies with the slogan “Stop Separating Families!”
In 2011 and 2012, Voces was the plaintiff in two federal lawsuits to protect voting rights and guarantee the integrity of the Latino voting bloc in Milwaukee.
Together with NAACP, Voces filed suit against the state of Wisconsin after passage of an onerous Photo ID requirement that disproportionately impacted minorities, immigrants, the elderly and the poor.
Thanks to this lawsuit, a judge ordered a temporary injunction of the law for the spring and recall elections. Voces has tentatively won a victory, but will monitor the situation to safeguard voting rights for under-represented populations in the fall presidential election.
Voces filed the second lawsuit against the State of Wisconsin for a re-districting map fraught with gerrymandering. Supposedly based on Census 2010 data, the map for the 8th and 9th Assembly Districts did not accurately reflect the 44% growth of the Latino community in Milwaukee during the past ten years. Among other inequities, the map diluted the power of the Latino vote in two majority districts by carving an arbitrary line in the middle of the Latino community.
In March a three-judge federal panel ordered the maps as drawn by Voces’ expert witness to replace the state’s maps for the two districts in question. The maps protecting the Latino voting bloc in Milwaukee were used for the 2012 presidential election.
2013 – Immigration Reform Campaign, Senate voted and passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, did not make it past Congress. Our members lobbied all 8 congressional representatives in Wisconsin and 2 senators.
2014 – Won lawsuit against Sheriff Clarke
2015 – Passed Local ID in Milwaukee (not a drivers’ license)
2016 – Day Without Latinos Feb. 18 2016
This post is also available in: Spanish