Voces Got Milk event

At a "people's hearing" in the Capitol on Wednesday, immigration advocates argued that a proposed bill banning sanctuary cities would negatively affect Wisconsin's dairy industry. 

At a “people’s hearing” in the Capitol on Wednesday, immigration advocates offered many reasons to oppose a bill that would ban sanctuary cities.

Some spoke about their experience as undocumented immigrants. An Appleton resident who has lived in the country without documentation for 19 years talked about raising her five kids to be good citizens.

“(It’s) unjust to my American children to have their mother sent away,” she said.

But the main argument from immigrants, faith leaders and farmers at the gathering was economic: the bill would be devastating to state’s dairy industry, they said.

A banner proclaiming, “Got Milk? Not without immigrants!” hung in the front of the room, a reference to the many immigrants in the industry. Some estimates say that on large dairy farms in the state, the workforce is up to 80 percent immigrant labor, many of them undocumented.  

The event was co-sponsored by Voces de la Frontera, Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, Family Farm Defenders and Centro Hispano of Dane County.

Residents from around the state, including Green Bay, Milwaukee, Appleton and Manitowoc crowded into the room for the event, with some forced to sit on the floor or stand in the back.

The bill they were protesting, AB190, was introduced by Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, and effectively bans sanctuary cities.

A sanctuary city is commonly understood to be a city where local law enforcement officials don’t inquire about residents’ immigration status.

The bill bans sanctuary cities by outlawing ordinances and policies that prohibit inquiring about immigration status or refusing to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. If a city, village or town doesn’t comply, the state Department of Revenue can withhold state aid the next year, between $500 to $5,000 for each day of noncompliance, depending on the population.

Spiros has said that he introduced the bill to force compliance with federal immigration authorities’ request that local police hold suspected undocumented immigrants accused of a crime in jail for up to 48 hours. The focus is on accused criminals, he said, like those stopped for a traffic violation. 

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, reminded the crowd that a similar bill was passed by the state Assembly last year, but after crowd of thousands protested at the Capitol, the Senate never took up the bill.

John Peck, executive director of Family Farm Defenders, said the $43 billion state dairy industry couldn’t function without immigrant workers, most of whom are undocumented, he said. The bill would “pull the rug out from the Wisconsin dairy industry,” he said.

“There’s no place for hate in the dairy state,” Peck said.

He was one of several farmers who spoke or sent statements about the importance of undocumented workers. One said that when bills like this are introduced, workers may leave the state and seek work “where they are welcome.”

Dr. Diego Calderon, a research fellow at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and an immigrant from Colombia, encouraged legislators to attend the upcoming World Dairy Expo in Madison and ask the farmers there how the bill would affect them. 

Nick Levendofsky, a government relations associate for the Wisconsin Farmers Union, read a statement from the Wisconsin Farmers Union board, which voted unanimously on Tuesday to oppose the bill. It noted that there have been several “swings” in immigration policy at the federal level.

“Let’s let the craziness stay in Washington and keep some measure of stability and predictability here at home,” the statement read.

Others argued from a humanitarian point of view, and shared stories of the emotional consequences of deportation.

“We’re dealing with human rights, we’re dealing with human beings,” said Michael Slattery, another dairy farmer.

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Isabel Martinez, a 12-year-old from Manitowoc, told the audience the story of her father’s deportation when she was 7.

Her family was waiting for her dad to come home from work, but got a phone call instead, saying he had been picked up by ICE. The next month was filled with visits to “faraway places just to see dad behind glass.”

The last time she saw her dad, she watched him be “chained to a row of other mothers and fathers” and taken away. He yelled back at his family, “Don’t forget me!” That was six years ago, and Martinez hasn’t seen her dad since then.

“My life was shattered that day and will never be the same,” she said. “The pain I feel everyday will never go away.”

A similar bill recently passed in Texas, and Myrna Orozco Gallos, a Houston resident, said that when Hurricane Harvey hit, people who “desperately needed help” refused to go to shelters because of fear of deportation, she said. She called the legislation “dangerous” and urged Wisconsin not to pass it.

Asked about the chances of the bill passing, state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said that’s she’s stopped “taking bets” on what will and won’t get passed.

“You can’t say that it’s not going to move,” she said. “I’ve learned that really any bad idea, Republicans can move and make it into a law.”

But she said Democrats would do everything they could to stop it, and was optimistic the bill would be defeated.

“The implications for our agricultural and dairy industry are so staggering. I mean, it would literally grind those industries to a halt,” she said. “I’m hoping that if (supporters of the bill) don’t care about the actual people who are impacted ... at least the economics and the consequences of this bill will dissuade them.”

Dave Gorak, executive director of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration, said in an email that Americans should “accept the fact that lawlessness only breeds more lawlessness."

"Why should a 'nation of laws' suspend the rule of law in order to accommodate people who have no right to be here?” he wrote. “The message we are getting from illegal aliens and their advocates … is that the American people have no right to defend their sovereignty.”