In Defense of the American Dream

(Speech on March 12, 2011 by Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, at State Capitol, Madison WI)

“On behalf of the members of Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin’s largest low-wage worker and immigrant rights organization, and its youth chapters, Youth Empowered in The Struggle (YES!), we are proud to join you today, one day longer and one day stronger: in the fight to defend the American Dream for working families.

Governor Walker’s illegitimate law that denies public employees the right to organize and his budget are an attack on the American Dream, the belief that freedom includes the promise of prosperity regardless of social class or circumstance.

He is attacking the civil rights of immigrants and people of color in Wisconsin–in health care, education, and freedom from discrimination.

In his budget repair bill he intends to deny access to health care–Badger Care, Senior Care, Family Care, and Medicaid– to low income families and non-US citizens; this means, excluding immigrants with legal status and taking away the only sliver of health care available for undocumented immigrants besides emergency medical care: prenatal care for pregnant women, endangering the life of the woman and child.

It is revealing how Walker wants to blur the line between legal and the so-called illegal immigrants; what is left, is blatant prejudice.

If this policy were to be implemented it would institutionalize discrimination based on national origin.
In Walker’s budget bill, in education; he is trying to eliminate a civil rights milestone achieved in our state in 2009: instate tuition rights for Wisconsin’s undocumented youth to pursue their dream of higher education by paying in state tuition.

Many of these young people have been caught in our broken immigration system, waiting over a decade for their papers to be processed or passage of federal reform. They are Americans, new Americans. Their parents pay taxes. They attended Wisconsin’s public schools. In a country that is a patch work of different waves of working class immigrants.

A country where generations of people have fought courageously to make real our founding national ideals, inscribed in the Declaration of Independence , that all people are created equal and which represents the best of America. And that’s what we represent today. That’s what we’re fighting for today.

And, now State Representative Pridemore is circulating an Arizona copycat bill that is unconstitutional and would legalize racial profiling which Governor Walker pledged to sign during his campaign. Like Arizona’s SB 1070, the bill would mandate that law enforcement officers to question someone if they have “reasonable suspicion” a person is undocumented. A person would have to show documentation within 48 hours to prove their legal status or risk being arrested, jailed, and deported.

I myself have been questioned about my status, yet I was born in this country. Puerto Ricans are commonly questioned about the legitimacy of their documents–yet they are US citizens.

This bill would usher in a return to an era before the civil rights movement, of second class citizenship for people of color. It is opposed by police and law enforcement officers because they want immigrants to not be afraid of being deported because they talked to them as witnesses or victims of a crime.

The real intent of these laws is to foster deep racial and ethnic divisions between working people, so we are not united in a common fight for our economic rights. Let’s show them, they’re wrong.

Walker and his corporate backers have passed a law that is un- American. His agenda is to deny public employees, union workers, farmers, the poor, immigrants and people of color, the promise of American Dream: the inalienable right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Yet, we stand here today in solidarity, in common cause in defense of our right to the American Dream–not just for the rich as Walker and his corporate cronies want– but for all working families in Wisconsin. Voces de la Frontera is proud to join with you in that fight, every step of the way. ¡Sí Se Puede!

This post is also available in: Spanish