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‘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. Rosa Rivera, Voces’ first paid worker, was appointed to a part-time role coordinating the center in 2002.
In 2004, VF 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’.