As May Day comes around again, immigrant workers are once more taking to the streets in protest of continued criminalization. Having defeated the 287(g) program in Milwaukee — which makes local law enforcement into an arm of immigration enforcement — Voces de la Frontera and other organizations have called for a “Day WithoutLatinxs & Immigrants” strike action to halt the program in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Gabriel Quintero is a member of Voces de la Frontera and has lived in Waukesha since 1999. In this interview, Quintero discusses the strike action, how the departure of Paul Ryan has affected Wisconsin and the group’s organizing under the Trump administration.
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?
Gabriel Quintero: That is correct.
Tell us about what is going on in Waukesha and in Wisconsin this year.
In the past, our sheriff in Waukesha County, he wants to participate in the program called 287(g), which would allow the sheriff’s department to act [as] an immigration enforcement agent. … People [were] afraid of this program because you can be racially profiled. People being pulled over just for the color of their skin and to be questioned about status. So this is not a good program for our community and, in general, the public.
You have been fighting about this in Wisconsin for a while, right?
Yes. We fought this battle before with Sheriff [David] 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.
Tell us about what is planned for May Day, then?
May Day is a day of actions. We are going to march and we are going to raise our voices and tell Sheriff [Eric] 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.
What has it been like day to day in Waukesha for the last couple of years since Trump has been in office?
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.
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.
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 287(g) 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 [on May 1] to show our power, our economic power.
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?
That is a great question. Actually, one of the candidates for Paul Ryan’s position is going to join us in the march … 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 … are not good for our community.
What else should people know about immigrant worker organizing in Wisconsin?
We have been trying really hard to push an agenda which … give[s] [immigrants] driver’s licenses … 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 licenses for undocumented immigrants.
How do you feel about the immigrant rights movement under Trump as a whole? Do you feel like it is strong?
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….
How can people keep up with you and with Voces?
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 1, todos somos Waukesha, si se puede.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
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.