Thousands Join Day Without Latinxs & Immigrants Strike to Restore Driver Licenses for All in Wisconsin

Photos here and here. Video here and here.

The Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda during the May 1st Day Without Latinxs & Immigrants. Photo: Voces de la Frontera, 5/1/2019.

May 1st, MADISON, WISCONSIN – On Wednesday, May 1st, thousands of people marched on the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison as part of the Day Without Latinxs & Immigrants, a statewide general strike urging the state legislature to restore access to driver licenses for immigrant families. Over 180 businesses closed throughout the state (list here).

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has included measures to restore driver licenses for immigrants in his 2019-2021 state budget proposal, and the Dairy Business Association as well as leaders from both parties have spoken out in support. Wisconsinites could obtain driver licenses regardless of immigration status until 2007, when a law passed by the legislature the previous year to take licenses away from immigrants without a Social Security Number went into effect. 

May 1st is a traditional national day of action for immigrant and worker rights. Marches were expected in at least ten cities nationwide to resist the Trump Administration’s attacks on immigrant and refugee families and to demand policies that stop deportations and keep families together. Movimiento Cosecha organized Day Without an Immigrant actions in New Jersey, Indiana, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Michigan to urge those states to restore access to driver licenses for immigrants and provide countywide protections as part of their #ManejandoSinMiedo campaign. 

“I’m here as a co-owner of a dairy and an immigrant, I am here because our community needs driver licenses,” said Omar Guerrero, co-owner of Drake Dairy in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. “Most dairy workers are Latino immigrants. We should all be able to work, pick up our kids, and get groceries without fear. This will also make the whole community safer. We make this state stronger, and we need driver licenses.”

“I came here when I was 14 years old and I have lived here for over 30 years,” said Eduardo Perea, a Voces de la Frontera member from Milwaukee who spoke during the rally. “In 2007, the legislature’s decision to take away driver licenses from immigrants without a Social Security Number affected me, my family, and my community terribly. I graduated high school here. My wife and I raised our children here, and two of my kids are in college here. I have always loved this country and been grateful for the opportunities we have received. But over time, I have realized that also, we as immigrants are very good for this country. We help make this country great. We give the best years of our lives working here. We are urging the state legislature, especially the Republican members, to take into account our sacrifice, our work, and our contributions, and support us by restoring driver licenses for all in Wisconsin.”

“As the Chief of Police of the second largest city in Wisconsin, I want driver licenses for all,” said Madison Chief of Police Mike Koval. “Immigrants have contributed to our city’s and our state’s success. For us to thrive as a community we all have to participate. Immigrants have been denied that right for too long. Driver licenses are overdue. You should not have to drive to school or work or worship in fear of being pulled over. This is not just a question of good economics. This is a question of human decency and civil rights.”

“Like Governor Evers, I and the Madison Common Council support your efforts to secure a state driver license,” said Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who spoke during the rally. “It makes our communities safer when people can drop off their children at school or drive to their place of work without fear, and it makes our road safer too.”

“This year, we fight for driver licenses,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera. “After a massive effort, our community elected a pro-immigrant, pro-labor, and pro-public education Governor. Tony Evers has put driver Licenses and instate tuition in his state budget.  That is a partial victory but it is not a total victory. We still need to build a stronger and more diverse mass movement across Wisconsin that demands that the leadership of the Republican Party—State Senator Fitzgerald, State Assembly Representative Voss, State Senator Alberta Darling, and State Representative Nygren—work with Governor Evers to build bipartisan support to restore driver licenses for immigrants. The struggle moving forward must be bigger and bolder. It must be broader and deeper. We must build organize across the state in rural, suburban and urban communities.  Itt must involve work stoppages, consumer boycotts, and electoral victories that move the people’s agenda forward and build prosperity for all working-class families. We will not stop until immigrants in Wisconsin can go into a DMV and once again get their driver license and drive without fear.” 

“Voters made clear in November and again in April that they want a state government that works for the people,” said Amy Mizialko, President of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA). “On May Day we are fighting to make sure lawmakers deliver on what Wisconsinites demanded at the polls, and much of that is in the People’s Budget: funding for the public schools our students deserve, drivers licenses for all, and Medicaid expansion.”

Governor Evers has also included in his proposed budget the restoration of in-state tuition at public universities for immigrants who have lived in the state for longer than three years. “As a teenager, I have many goals,” said Luís Tapia, a high school senior from Racine and member of Voces’ student arm Youth Empowered in the Struggle. “One is to obtain a drivers license and another is to go to college. However, neither of these goals have been easy to achieve due to the fact that I am undocumented. I’ve spent the majority of my life living in Wisconsin. I’ve received a public education, where it is expected for you to attend college to succeed in life. Trying to move forward along with our classmates, I began to fill out college applications. Because of my status, I do not qualify for federal financial aid. College is twice as expensive for me as for my classmates. Even though I’ve lived here for nearly my entire life I am still not considered a state resident. Meaning I pay out of state tuition. This hurts all of us. We urge the legislature to restore in-state tuition for immigrant Wisconsinites.”

Marchers also addressed the need to restore driver licenses for low-income US Citizens. Over 200,000 Wisconsin citizens had their licenses suspended in 2017 for inability to pay fines. Seven states do not take away people’s driver licenses for inability to pay fines. Most recently Virginia implemented this reform. “My city, Racine, is the third worst city for Black families in the United States,” said Robert Lawson, a high school student and YES member from Racine. “USA Today reported that there is a 12:1 ratio between black and white incarceration in Racine. Their spending on jails and incarceration has increased almost three times as much as on public education. Our Black and Brown brothers and sisters are being targeted and punished at a much higher rate than our white brothers and sisters. On top of this, my community is dealing with a significant income gap, and we have problems paying our tickets, citations, and fines. When we can’t pay the ticket, the price rises, and when we still can’t pay, we are barred from getting our driver license, creating a vicious cycle. Wisconsin must act now to end mass incarceration and provide a pathway for people who don’t have the money to pay tickets to be able to keep their licenses.” 

“Because we Jews were immigrants in Egypt who were not welcomed and not treated with justice, we are always commanded always to be mindful of the immigrants in our community,” said Rabbi Bonnie Margulis of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice and Dane Sanctuary Coalition. “As it says in Leviticus: ‘The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’”

Organizational cosponsors of Wisconsin’s May 1st Day Without Latinxs & Immigrants to restore driver licenses in Wisconsin include Kids Forward, Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, Madison Teachers Inc., Wisconsin Education Association Council, United Community Center, Hmong American Women’s Association, Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, Latino Consortium for Action, Freedom Inc., American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, AFT Local 212, United Faculty and Academic Staff/AFT Local 223, Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, United Steelworkers District 2, United Auto Workers (UAW) Southeast Wisconsin, Laborers Local 113, Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, Human Rights Campaign, United Food and Commercial Workers, UAW Local 469, Fight for $15 Wisconsin, Carpenters Local 264, UAW Local 1866, United Electrical Workers Western Region, IBEW Local 2304, the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph, and Milwaukee Turners.

Follow Voces de la Frontera on Twitter at @voces_milwaukee and on Facebook. 

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