Jose Flores, a painter for Midwest Composite Technologies, immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico to escape poverty and “get a better life.”
But while he has lived in the U.S. for 15 years, Flores said he still cannot obtain a valid ID because of his undocumented immigrant status.
Flores, a Waukesha resident, said he was unable to fill a prescription for his wife’s medications at a local pharmacy because he could not produce any identification. He said many undocumented immigrant workers face such problems because they are not eligible for local IDs, and could be deported.
“I am a good worker and I help the community, I pay taxes but I cannot get my prescription because I have no ID because I’m an immigrant worker,” Flores said.
Just a month after the “Day Without Latinos” protest, local immigrant workers and workers’ rights centers called for immigrant policies that better addressed their needs in Wisconsin.
Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, said Wisconsin needs more policies addressing “comprehensive immigration reform” for both lawful and undocumented immigrant workers. She said obtaining a valid ID is one of the most prominent issues undocumented immigrant workers face.
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Most undocumented immigrants cannot obtain IDs like a driver’s license. Zamarripa co-authored a bill that would allow undocumented immigrant workers to receive a driver’s license if they pass a road test. She said the bill would also target public safety because it would require workers to show proof of car insurance within 30 days of receiving the license.
“At the end of the day, this provides public safety for everyone by allowing an undocumented immigrant in Wisconsin to take a road test, prove that they know the rules of the road and obtain a card so that they can drive legally and lawfully on our roads,” Zamarripa said.
The bill, however, failed in the last legislative session because of a lack of Republican support. Zamarripa said she plans to reintroduce it in the next session.
Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said in a statement that lawful immigrant workers would not support policies that support undocumented immigrant workers. Enforcing anti-immigrant policies is a “common sense” step governments should take, he said.
“I call on the federal government to secure our borders and reform our immigration laws in a common sense manner for the betterment of our country,” Stroebel said.
Wisconsin legislators divided
A bill that would prevent local municipalities from issuing IDs to undocumented workers passed the Senate 62-35 in February and currently sits on Gov. Scott Walker’s desk. All immigrant workers can hope for is for Walker to veto the bill, Zamarripa said.
Another bill that would fine cities for blocking police officers from asking criminal defendants about immigration status passed through the Assembly but was not taken up in the Senate this legislative session.
Zamarripa said the bill would have negatively impacted cooperation between law enforcement and undocumented immigrants in Wisconsin, especially in Milwaukee. While he is happy the bill did not pass this session, Flores said people must be cautious if it is reintroduced again.
Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, said in a statement that many people were unaware of what this bill would actually do. He said misinformation about the bill led many undocumented workers to think they would be deported if police caught them driving without a license. The bill was amended to exclude these types of offenses and would only apply to more serious offenses such as assault and driving under the influence, he said.
“As a former law enforcement officer myself, my intention with this bill is only to make Wisconsin communities safer by focusing on dangerous crimes,” Spiros said.
Zamarripa said immigrant workers, especially undocumented ones, are “struggling the most” in Wisconsin. She said many immigrant families consist of a mix of U.S. citizens, permanent residents and undocumented immigrants.
“The truth is once you’ve targeted undocumented immigrants, you’ve targeted their whole family,” Zamarripa said.
In a statement, Stroebel said unlawful immigration is not part of “the American Dream.” He said some of the policies these bills included would maintain control and enforce pre-existing federal immigration laws. Moreover, he said these policies would keep dangerous individuals away and encourage public safety.
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Flores said the most important action policymakers can take is to keep fighting for immigrant workers’ rights, including rights of the undocumented. He added that this issue needs to be addressed not only in Wisconsin, but nationwide.
“The only thing we got left is to keep fighting for those who need help not only in Wisconsin but also in the U.S.,” he said.