Why Family Farmers Must Stand in Solidarity With Our Immigrant Sisters and Brothers and Oppose AB 190

Statement by:  John E. Peck, Executive Director, Family Farm Defenders

People’s Hearing Against Anti-Immigrant Bill AB 190 – Wisconsin State Capitol

Wed.  9/27/2017

Imagine being dragged from your home by armed men, beaten, and then thrown behind bars to await some horrible fate.   This is exactly what happened to Joshua Glover on the night of March 10th, 1854 in Racine, WI.  Glover was a runaway slave from St. Louis, MO who had escaped two years earlier to live in dignity in the north.  His former master, though, had offered a bounty for his capture and now a slave catcher posse – led by federal marshals – had tracked him down.  Thankfully, his plight was not ignored, and word soon spread about his abduction.  Close to a thousand anti-slavery activists converged on Milwaukee and broke into the jailhouse to free Glover.  Family farmers, many of whom were immigrants who had come to America fleeing violence in Europe, spirited Glover away and provided shelter for several weeks until he was able to stow away aboard a boat heading up Lake Michigan to Canada.  Over 100 other slaves took the Underground Railroad to freedom through WI prior to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

Fast forward to 2017.  Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests of undocumented immigrants have jumped from 9,000 per month at the end of the Obama Administration to over 13,000 today.  Once again, armed agents with state support are hunting down people simply because of their particular status.  Many of those detained end up separated from their families and friends.  Children are left abandoned at their school when parents suddenly “disappear.”   Others are assaulted and brutalized in the dehumanizing process leading to their deportation.  The White House has announced the termination of DACA, meaning thousands of “dreamers” will now confront a fresh nightmare. And now Pres. Trump is even threatening to take away federal funding from sanctuary communities, with the WI State Legislature and Gov. Walker all too eager to jump aboard this xenophobic bandwagon with AB 190.

Here in Wisconsin this is an especially critical issue since so much of our cultural heritage and economic vitality depends upon the strength and diversity found in our proud immigrant history.  Wisconsin’s $43 billion dairy industry could hardly function without 16,000+ immigrant workers, mostly from Mexico and Central America, the vast majority of which are also undocumented.  Many other immigrants from Europe, Canada, Africa, the Caribbean, and elsewhere can be found working across rural and urban WI in the tourism, agroprocessing, manufacturing, construction, restaurant, and healthcare sectors.

With the golden dream of coming to America left so battered and tarnished, it is no surprise that some farm workers are packing their bags and abandoning WI altogether. And for those who do choose to remain, the climate of fear is making life much more difficult.  If you are worried about being deported, why even bother calling the police?   Even some of Wisconsin’s agribusiness giants – many of which supported Walker and Trump – are now starting to have second thoughts about the fallout from their choice.  Can you imagine where Wisconsin would be today if similar rightwing backlash movements led by the KKK a hundred years ago targeting Scandinavian, German, Polish, Italian and Irish immigrants had been successful?  How impoverished would WI be today?  Would we even have any agriculture without immigrants?

Family Farm Defenders is proud to stand in solidarity with Voces de la Frontera and our other allies in defense of the rights of immigrants to be our friends, colleagues, and neighbors here in Wisconsin.  If AB 190 manages to worm its way through the legislature, it will not only pull the rug out from under the WI dairy industry, but it will tear a huge hole in the rich fabric of our rural communities that depend so much upon immigrants for their very livelihood.  Some Wisconsin abolitionists who aided the escape of slaves prior to the Civil War were charged with felonies and spent years in prison for their moral stance.  Rest assured, some of us are willing to stand up one again for what is right – there is no place for hate in the dairy state.

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