The divide-and-conquer attack on working people by Wisconsin Republicans continues. After pitting private sector workers versus public employees, Walker and the GOP are now targeting Wisconsin's quickly-growing Latino and immigrant communities.
The latest census numbers show that Wisconsin's Latino community has grown by 74 percent in recent years, and GOP lawmakers have responded aggressively to this shift in Wisconsin's ethnic composition. Walker's budget eliminates laws that had treated immigrants humanely, and a GOP bill circulating through the legislature seeks to impose a draconian racial profiling bill modeled after Arizona's SB1070. What's more, the anti-immigrant sentiment may be fueling the out-of-state effort to recall Wisconsin's Democratic Senators.
Here are four ways the Wisconsin GOP is attacking immigrant and Latino communities.
1) Eliminating in-state tuition eligibility
Walker's budget makes it very difficult for undocumented students to pursue their dreams by eliminating a law allowing in-state college tuition rates for students who otherwise satisfy residence requirements. (See pages 12 and 17 of the budget.)
Wisconsin has been ahead of most of the country in its efforts to embrace the state's ambitious young scholars who have worked against the odds and want to attend college. After several years of campaigning by Voces de la Frontera and other immigrant rights groups, Governor Jim Doyle signed a law in 2009 to allow undocumented students in-state tuition rights.
Many of the students benefiting from the law were brought to the U.S. at a very young age, and many of their parents pay state taxes. These are students who have done everything right: they've worked hard in school, earned good grades, and were accepted to college in a competitive process. The law Walker eliminates did not include any preferences, but simply treated undocumented students like any other Wisconsin resident, giving life to the idea of "equal opportunity."
If the budget passes, tuition costs for undocumented students would go up 10 times at a technical college, from $150/credit to $1,500/credit. For the university, it would double from $9,000/year to around $23,000/year. This would put college out of reach for most students.
2) Eliminating Health Care for Legal Immigrants
Walker's budget would deny access to health care for legal immigrant families who receive Badger Care, Senior Care, Family Care, and food stamps. Here, too, Walker is punishing people who have done everything "correctly," are in the country legally, and work and pay taxes. Many of them may be on the long path to citizenship. Federal agencies govern the slow-going, multi-year citizenship process, and this state law is punishing the people caught in that bureaucratic framework.
3) Eliminating Prenatal Care
Walker's bill would also deny access to prenatal care for undocumented pregnant women, endangering the life of the mother and child. Anyone with a shred of empathy should be able to see why this is a problem.
4) Legalizing Racial Profiling
In addition to the budget bill, Rep. Don Pridemore (R-99) is circulating a law modeled after Arizona's notorious SB1070. Under the proposed law, a person arrested for any offense, including civil violations, would be required to prove legal status upon "reasonable suspicion" of illegal status, and if a person did not have that proof, they would be incarcerated for 48 hours, then turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
While Pridemore's law only requires officers to inquire into legal status after an arrest, most people participate in "arrestable activity" on a daily basis. We have all failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, or driven just over 65 MPH on the highway, or crossed against the "walk" sign, or taken a few days to replace our car's tail light. These relatively innocent "illegal activities" tend to attract little police attention. Under the proposed law, a brown-skinned person doing any of these things would be subjected to harassing inquiries into legal status, and possibly thrown into jail if they happened to leave the house without proof of legal status. Immigrant communities will hesitate to call the police for fear that a family member's legal status could be revealed and that their family would be broken apart by deportations.
How hard can it really be to prove one's legal status? It is estimated that only 20% of American citizens have a passport, and America has yet to implement a mandatory national identification card. Many Wisconsin residents do not have a driver's license or state ID: a 2005 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study found that less than half of Milwaukee County's Latino and African-American adult residents have driver's licenses, with the numbers dropping to 34% of Latinos and 26% of African Americans among young adults between ages 18 and 24. In any case, those of us who have a driver's license have never feared being thrown in jail for 48 hours for having left our wallet at home.
Effort to Recall Senate Democrats Fueled by Anti-Immigrant Sentiment
As CMD reported last week, a Utah-based group called Americans Against Immigration Amnesty (AAIA) is leading an effort to recall the 14 Democratic Senators who fled the state to delay implementation of Governor Walker's union-busting bill. While the group's director, Dan Baltes, writes that he is leading the effort because their acts are a "concerted, deliberate and organized attack on our republic and system of government," his group's real motivation may be to eliminate potential opposition to Wisconsin's anti-immigrant efforts.
It would not be the first time that Baltes found a pretext for attacking supporters of immigrant rights. Baltes and AAIA first attracted attention last year by spearheading a recall effort against another out-of-state elected official, Arizona's Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. Dupnik attracted right-wing ire when, in the wake of the Tucson shooting tragedy, he said Arizona is "the mecca for prejudice and bigotry" and that "I think that people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol." Baltes justified his out-of-state recall effort simply because he though Sheriff Dupnik's comments were a "shameful example of the worst of American politics." Others pointed out it was no coincidence that Americans Against Immigration Amnesty was going after one of the most vocal critics of Arizona's immigration law.
Like Arizona, it seems little coincidence that the recall effort coincides with the Wisconsin GOP's attack on immigrants and Latinos. And like Walker's selective attack on certain public sector labor unions, this looks to be another attempt to divide the working classes. With immigrant rights groups making strong showings at Wisconsin's rallies, here's hoping Walker and his corporate-funded cronies don't conquer.