Why These Immigrants Are Shutting Their City Down This May Day

Sarah Jaffe May 1, 2018

International Workers' Day is also a day to fight for immigrants' rights. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. We’re now into the sec­ond year of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, and the last year has been filled with ups and downs, impor­tant vic­to­ries, suc­cess­ful hold­ing cam­paigns, and painful defeats. We’ve learned a lot, but there is always more to learn, more to be done. In this now-week­ly series, we talk with orga­niz­ers, agi­ta­tors, and edu­ca­tors, not only about how to resist, but how to build a bet­ter world.

As May Day comes around again, once again immi­grant work­ers take to the streets in protest of con­tin­ued crim­i­nal­iza­tion. Hav­ing defeat­ed the 287g pro­gram, which makes local law enforce­ment into an arm of immi­gra­tion enforce­ment, in Mil­wau­kee, Voces De La Fron­tera and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions have called for a Day With­out Lat­inxs & Immi­grants” strike action to halt the pro­gram in Wauke­sha. Gabriel Quin­tero is a mem­ber of Voces and spoke to me about the day, the depar­ture of Paul Ryan, and their orga­niz­ing under the Trump administration.

Gabriel Quin­tero: My name is Gabriel Quin­tero. I am from Mex­i­co and I have lived in the city of Wauke­sha since 1999.

Sarah Jaffe: We are talk­ing on Mon­day. Tomor­row is Tues­day. It is May Day and where you live, it is going to be anoth­er Day With­out an Immi­grant, right? 

GQ: That is correct.

SJ: Tell us about what is going on in Wauke­sha and in Wis­con­sin this year.

GQ: In the past, our sher­iff in Wauke­sha Coun­ty, he want­ed to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram called 287g, which would allow the sheriff’s depart­ment to act an immi­gra­tion enforce­ment agent. This pro­gram has been known for not… What can I say? The pur­pose is not what the peo­ple want­ed. We all hear about Sher­iff Arpaio in Mari­co­pa Coun­ty, which is in Ari­zona, he was using that pro­gram to intim­i­date and put all our com­mu­ni­ty, immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty, and pret­ty much base[ing] it on your race. It was Peo­ple were afraid of these pro­grams because you can be racial­ly pro­filed. Peo­ple being pulled over just for the col­or of their skin and to be ques­tioned about their sta­tus. So, this is not a good pro­gram for our com­mu­ni­ty and, in gen­er­al, the public.

SJ: You have been fight­ing about this in Wis­con­sin for a while, right?

GQ: Yes. We fought this bat­tle before with Sher­iff Clarke in Mil­wau­kee and we won the bat­tle. He was try­ing to use the pro­gram in the Mil­wau­kee area and thanks to Voces De La Fron­tera and the actions of all the peo­ple togeth­er, we defeat­ed this pro­gram in Mil­wau­kee. Now, we’re try­ing to do the same thing in Waukesha.

SJ: Tell us about what is planned for May Day, then?

GQ: May Day is a day of actions. We are going to march and we are going to raise our voic­es and tell Sher­iff Sev­er­son we don’t want this pro­gram in Wauke­sha Coun­ty. We plan to make our ral­ly march around our local library to the cour­t­house. We have got a pro­gram with speak­ers from our com­mu­ni­ty and lead­ers, in general.

SJ: What has it been like day to day in Wauke­sha for the last cou­ple of years since Trump has been in office?

GQ: Since the new admin­is­tra­tion, a lot of things changed, not for good in Wauke­sha Coun­ty. They see immi­grants as a prob­lem for the com­mu­ni­ty, which is not true. We are here to sup­port, not just the city of Wauke­sha, but the whole state. We pay tax­es. We are proud home­own­ers, like in my case. We all want to be part of the com­mu­ni­ty and not be por­trayed as crim­i­nals, which we are not.

SJ: What kind of orga­niz­ing have you been doing to build up towards May Day? Tell us what has been going on in Wauke­sha for the last few months.

GQ: We have been ask­ing our local author­i­ties to be on our side, telling Sher­iff Sev­er­son that this pro­gram is not right for our com­mu­ni­ty. For­tu­nate­ly, our local police depart­ment, they gave us a state­ment, they say they are not going to par­tic­i­pate in this 287g pro­gram, which was a great vic­to­ry for us. But, we have still got to address the sheriff’s depart­ment and let them know that we are not going to agree to par­tic­i­pate in this pro­gram. We have been mak­ing a lot of phone calls direct­ly to his office. We are try­ing to get most of the local busi­ness­es to sup­port us, so they’re going to close tomor­row to show our pow­er, our eco­nom­ic power.

SJ: In the oth­er part of the state in Wis­con­sin, Paul Ryan, who has been the Speak­er of the House, is now step­ping down. Look­ing for­ward to this elec­tion year, what does it feel like in Wisconsin?

GQ: That is a great ques­tion. Actu­al­ly, one of the can­di­dates for Paul Ryan’s posi­tion is going to join us in the march tomor­row. Randy Bryce. He is going to march, hand in hand with us. Yes, Paul Ryan has been bad for our com­mu­ni­ty. So, we are glad that he is not going to be re-elect­ed because his poli­cies, his Don­ald Trump poli­cies, are not good for our community.

SJ: What else should peo­ple know about immi­grant work­er orga­niz­ing in Wisconsin?

GQ: We have been try­ing real­ly hard to push an agen­da which allows to give peo­ple a driver’s license, back because we know this is a safe­ty issue for every­body. It is not the right thing to have peo­ple dri­ving with­out licens­es. We have been push­ing through our local elect­ed offi­cials and we are opti­mistic that we are going to get a bill at some point to pass driver’s license for undoc­u­ment­ed immigrants.

SJ: How do you feel about the immi­grant rights move­ment under Trump as a whole? Do you feel like it is strong?

GQ: We have been push­ing real­ly hard, espe­cial­ly with the DREAM Act and we have been try­ing to address these prob­lems local­ly. But, yes, since the new admin­is­tra­tion, we have been under attack pret­ty much all the time. We have got to step up and raise our voic­es. This is not Amer­i­ca. Amer­i­ca is a coun­try of immi­grants. Diver­si­ty does make this coun­try the best coun­try in the world.

SJ: How can peo­ple keep up with you and with Voces?

GQ: We got a lot of good new tools since the first march in 2006. Now, peo­ple are more involved. We have social media which has been a great tool for us. We are com­mu­ni­cat­ing and we have been orga­niz­ing a lot bet­ter. We got a lot of new chap­ters in Wis­con­sin for Voces De La Fron­tera. We will expand our voice. We got a new office which is open in Green Bay and we plan to open our own office here in the city of Wauke­sha. So, peo­ple have been very involved and I think we have got a good move­ment going now.

May 1st, todos somos Wauke­sha, si se puede.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast on iTunes. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission.

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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