The future of immigration reform at the federal level remains in doubt, stalled in the House of Representatives, where key Republican leaders oppose the package backed by the Senate.
In Milwaukee, the issue of immigration is often linked to other issues such as the labor movement – a nexus at work in the labor unrest at Palermo’s Pizza, in which some workers sought to organize, and the company fired dozens, citing a lack of employment verification documents.
The plight of the workers was taken up by a Milwaukee organization, Voces de la Frontera, and its founder, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, who has grown her advocacy group to the thousands.
Voces is an organization that fights for the rights of immigrants, legal and illegal, in and out of the work place, says Milwaukee Magazine writer Kurt Chandler, who recently profiled Neumann-Ortiz.
“Because many are non-English speaking, the center provides them with services on how to become acclimated and how to find their way into the system," Chandler says.
Illegal immigrants are easily taken advantage of due to their citizenship status, he says. Companies have been able to pay under minimum wage while their employees are helpless to file formal complaints to governmental oversight. Labor abused workers then have to take to informal means of action.
“They’ve been arguing, demonstrating, holding protests on behalf of undocumented workers and Mexicans who have been deported," Chandler says.
The claims made by the Palermo’s workers were about dangers in the workplace and that overtime pay was hard to collect on. The workers went on strike, and said that Palermo's threatened them with an immigration audit. That's when Voces stepped in to offer help to the workers.
A Milwaukee area writer, Chandler's article on Nuemann-Ortiz and the work done by Voces de la Frontera is in the July issue.