Happy 10 Year Anniversary, Voces de la Frontera

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Voces de la Frontera. Now the largest Latino organization in the state, we opened our doors in November 2001.

Voces is most recognizable for the annual May 1 march for immigrant rights. In March of 2006, a “A Day Without Latinos” brought a crowd of 30,000, in the middle of a workday to defeat Representative Sensenbrenner’s HR 4437. On May 1 of 2006 this number swelled to 70,000 during a workday, despite efforts by others to impersonate ICE at a local church and stores to intimidate the immigrant community from joining the march. The Milwaukee annual marches organized by Voces de la Frontera have consistently been among the largest in the nation.

Most recently, on May 1, 2011 Voces mobilized 100,000 to rally against a Arizona copycat bill and in solidarity with other workers. This year, Voces mobilized to Madison to support public employees right to be represented in the workplace.
National AFL-CIO president Trumka came to Milwaukee to speak at the largest May Day rally in the nation.

Over the past decade, some of our successes include: the formation of three workers’ centers in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha; a 3,000 membership; multiracial student chapters, Youth Empowered in the Struggle, and a statewide coalition, the Wisconsin Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, to fight for driver’s licenses and instate tuition rights.

Defense of workers’ rights, regardless of immigration status. Voces has worked to protect thousands of workers and the families that depend on them from discriminatory practices and unjust firings due to re-verification programs like Social Security No Match letters.

Our national partnerships succeeded in including bilingual anti-discrimination language in the letters and ultimately a 2009 decision the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to formally rescind its rule which would have made Social Security Administration (SSA) “no-match” letters an immigration enforcement tool. At a state level, Voces’ advocacy put an end to state issued no match letters that were having the same consequence.

Building the political power of Latinos in the State of Wisconsin has been a contribution of Voces de la Frontera (c3) and Voces de la Frontera Action (c4), the organization’s lobbying and electoral arm. In 2004, Voces mobilized Latino voters in 11 wards in Milwaukee, resulting in an increase of 6% voter turnout since the previous presidential election. The organization has continued to “get out the vote,” resulting in unprecedented turnout in primarily Latino wards in Milwaukee and Racine in 2006 and in Milwaukee in the presidential election of 2008 and the 2010 midterm election.

The 2010 Latino Redistricting Committee, of which Voces was a part of, won new district maps at the school board, city and county giving the Latino vote more power based on population growth.

Through our New American campaign Voces is helping lawful permanent residents learn English and become naturalized US citizens, building a growing Latino and immigrant vote.

The Latino political power by Voces de la Frontera Action, helped elect the first Latina to the state legislature: Jocasta Zamarripa.

Protecting our voting rights. Voces, in partnership with the ACLU, won bilingual ballot instructions in wards where there are Limited English Speakers and leading Election Protection work in Latino wards.

Defending education rights. Voces has long struggled to achieve in-state tuition rights in Wisconsin for undocumented students. Led by students, this campaign succeeded in winning in-state tuition in the 2009-2010 state budget. After the repeal by Governor Walker in 2011, Voces youth are working tirelessly to ensure access and win back in-state tuition rights.
In 2005, 2006, and 2008 Voces’ youth arm, Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES!), led a Get Out the Vote Effort on local referendums in the City of Racine to protect school funding, winning a total of $29.4 million.

Promoting good community relations with police. In 2007, Voces, in partnership with ACLU, LULAC and Sigma America, advocated successfully for a clear policy in Whitewater to assert that the Police Department does not have an immigration enforcement role. Voces won a similar written policy by the Milwaukee Police department .

Crucially, Voces supports families who are in crisis because of our broken immigration system. The New Sanctuary Movement, formed in 2008, collaborates with local faith communities to assist 15-20 families a month who have a loved one facing deportation, document abuses, and support national efforts to end the deportations. In 2011, we are helping families under the new Obama immigration policy to close deportation cases of individuals who had committed no crime or minor infraction, such as a traffic violation.

Voces de la Frontera defends civil rights, and honors those that came before us. In 2009, YES won a campaign at the Racine School District to make Martin Luther King an officially recognized holiday. In 2010, Voces members lobbied for resolutions to support the Arizona boycott that successfully passed at the Milwaukee Area Technical College and the Milwaukee School District.

Immigrants are helping rebuild our economy

Voces successfully advocated against a proposal that would have required inquiring about a person’s immigration status to obtain personal and business licenses or permits from the city. According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, the 2009 purchasing power of Latinos in Wisconsin totaled $5.7 billion and according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners, the state’s 3,750 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $975.5 million and employed 9,011 people. In a weak economy, we need to help small businesses and working families as tax payers and consumers.

Voces is grateful for the support of the small business community over the years. On May 1 of 2006 and 2007, over 100 businesses closed in solidarity.

All these accomplishments over the last ten years have elevated the voice, dignity and contributions of Latinos and immigrants to our state and nation. We have formed deep bonds with diverse groups whose fate is intertwined with our own.

As 2010 has shown, progress does not happen in a straight line, but with ups and downs and has made us stronger. Our progress requires unity and perseverance. Our ability to sustain and strengthen the movement depends on the support of our members and the community. As we close 2011, with our membership drive I invite you to renew or join Voces and to join us at our 10th year anniversary gala on October 27th. Thank you for your years of support. As Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave and great abolitionist said, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

This post is also available in: Spanish