While many immigration reform advocates are grateful that the Senate passed an immigration reform bill, there is a movement stirring protesting the increased militarization at the border planned to come along with it. Milwaukee, Wisconsin was one of the 10 U.S. cities where immigrant rights groups protested against this component of the plan.
“We think it would be a serious mistake to be passive,” says Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the Milwaukee-based Voces de la Frontera. “We need a bill that’s going to be in the interest of working families and the values of an immigrant nation. We need to be a voice for that change until we get the bill that we need.”
The Senate bill includes adding 20,000 border patrol agents to the more than 21,000 currently deployed, adding 700 more miles of border wall and adding 18 drones to patrol the border. Senators from both parties said that the additional border measures were the only way many legislators would back comprehensive immigration reform, especially in the House, where the issue is currently being debated.
According to Voces de la Frontera, a local immigrants and workers’ rights defense organization leading the protest, this would cost nearly $50 million and would create one of the most costly and militarized border zones in the world over the next 10 years.
“We’re calling it out, and it’s not just people on the border,” says Neumann-Ortiz. “We want to continue to organize the community to continue to fight and put pressure on our House of Representatives.”
Members of organizations such as Peace Action Wisconsin and Youth Empowered in the Struggle, as well as individuals who have been affected by border violence, spoke out on the human cost of escalated militarization, and called for passage of a bill which put more of a focus on creating a pathway to citizenship.
One of the speakers was Tomas Contreras, a small business owner in the U.S. who says he was unlawfully detained at the U.S.-Mexico border for three months.
“I was in a deportation center for 81 days,” said Contreras. “There are no cameras, no medical services, toilets and showers that don’t work. And I did nothing wrong.”
Walfred Gil, a former contractor with the Department of Homeland Security, said there were financial incentives to increase border security.
“Border enforcement is more about the pocket of the contractor than it is about the people this affects,” said Gil. “There is a difference between the police and the military. A soldier can never be a cop. You have one purpose that you’re trained for – to fight a war, not to police a border. And you’re compromising the safety of civilians when you mix those things.”
Gerardo Alvarado, a college student with Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES), crossed the border as a child with his parents at age 5 from Mexico, said, “We can’t have another Gaza Strip here.”