Ni un paso atrás: The struggle for immigrant rights and what lies ahead

By Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director Voces de la Frontera Action

2021: A Historic Fight for Immigration Reform

As we begin a new year, let’s remember the many immigrant workers who supported essential industries during the pandemic, got sick from COVID-19, exposed their loved ones, and died working because they lacked protections and access to health care or necessary support because of their immigration status. Many of these workers tirelessly organized, lobbied, marched, went on strike and engaged in civil disobedience as part of a national “We Are Home” campaign with the hope of winning a historic immigration reform bill before the holidays.   

Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D- W. Va.) opposition to the Build Back Better (BBB) reconciliation budget bill meant that the Senate did not have the 50 Democratic votes necessary for passage since every single Republican opposed the legislation.  The failure of Democrats and President Biden to deliver on the promise of immigration reform in the first year of the new administration is a crushing blow to the workers and their families who continue to put their lives on the line during this pandemic.  

Manchin’s opposition to BBB is based on the inhumane, corrupt and deceptive idea that the government should not help working class families who are struggling in hard times because it is “too expensive.” Yet for Manchin there is never too much money for the military budget or corporate America. 

The reality is that all of the social investments in BBB — including immigration reform — help all working class people and, in turn, help our economy recover.  The refusal to invest in BBB constitutes a class war against workers in which the most vulnerable — immigrant workers among them — suffer the most.

Without regard to the promises that were made to voters, Manchin prioritized his own ambition and his subservience to corporate lobbyists. The Democratic Party leadership and progressives in Congress made a serious miscalculation by trusting Manchin and other corporate Democrats and agreeing to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill before BBB shortly after the November 2021 elections. As soon as these two bills were decoupled, progressive Democrats lost the leverage they needed to force Manchin and other corporate Democrats to follow through on their promises and vote for the historic BBB. 

What does this mean for the future?  For progressives and for the immigrant rights movement?

As 2022 begins, three words capture what we need: strength, resilience, and struggle.

Strength because we cannot give up the fight. Resilience because we have always found a way to move forward. Struggle because all change is rooted in our families, our collective power and our solidarity with others.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said that Build Back Better will be brought to a vote in the Senate in 2022. This will force Manchin to go on the record in opposition to this popular bill.  Voces de la Frontera Action applauds and supports efforts to hold Manchin accountable to his constituents. He represents one of the poorest states in the country whose working class families would benefit greatly from the provisions in the bill. The immigrant rights movement will continue to demand that Democratic leadership fight for the inclusion of immigration reform with a path to citizenship in BBB, while it is still viable. 

Importantly, our struggle to pass BBB links the immigrant rights movement with climate justice, labor and anti-poverty movements. More solidarity is needed to advance a bold progressive national agenda.  

If Democrats in Congress fail to pass immigration reform in early 2022,  the immigrant rights movement will turn its focus to President Biden, demanding that he use his executive and administrative power to implement major immigration reform protections.  

Latinx and multiracial youth were a critical constituency in Wisconsin in defeating Trump in 2020  and throwing a fascist administration out of office that went so far as to stoke a violent attempted coup on January 6, 2021. Since then, the Republican Party has become an openly white supremacist party, declaring itself the “party of Trump,” opposing immigration reform, and working to undermine voting rights to win elections. 

Voces de la Frontera Action has never been about allegiance to any political party. Our allegiance is to the working class membership we represent and fight for. While we did not achieve immigration reform in 2021, we have never been closer to winning and public support for it has never been stronger. We must continue to demand that President Biden deliver on immigration reform as a policy priority in 2022.

Electing More Grassroots Progressive Champions 

Instead of walking away from elections and losing the ground we have gained, we need to grow the number of progressives in the U.S. Congress and Senate to get the votes we need to pass immigration reform, paid sick days, expanded access to healthcare, labor rights, voting rights and other pro-worker, pro-climate legislation.   This November in Wisconsin, we will have the chance to get rid of the far-right Republican Sen. Ron Johnson who is anti-immigrant and anti-worker, and elect a progressive U.S. Senator who values and respects all of our families. If we are successful in helping Democrats maintain control of Congress and we help elect more progressives, there will be no room for false allies such as Manchin who will be unable to block the crucial legislation that our communities desperately need.  

In 2022 there is also the opportunity to defend the governor’s seat that has been critical to providing protection and support for urban and rural families during the pandemic.  

We also have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to elect a new mayor in Milwaukee — a mayor who champions immigrant and workers’ rights. Milwaukee has only had four mayors since World War II. Whoever is elected may run the city for a generation or more. The critical primary election that will narrow the pool to two candidates for mayor is on Feb. 15, and the general election to vote for the winner is April 5. It’s likely that these elections will have low voter turnout, so our votes and the values we bring to the ballot box will have more impact. 

¡Sí se puede! The power of the strike

While corporations and racists try to deny the essential role and contributions of immigrants to this nation, the pandemic has revealed how important they are.  

The lessons we have learned in 2021 have affirmed that we cannot limit ourselves to the electoral arena, but must continue to organize in the workplace. We must use our collective economic power to not just improve wages and working conditions, but as leverage to achieve our demand for national immigration reform.  

In 2020 amidst the pandemic Voces established the Essential Worker Rights Network and, despite the absence of strong labor laws, we were able to win important protections when the pandemic was ravaging essential workers’ health and lives. 

On Oct. 11, 2021, with just one week’s notice, thousands of workers and their families, with great sacrifice, joined a statewide Day Without Latinxs and Immigrants general strike in Milwaukee to fight for immigration reform. We honor and recognize their leadership in the struggle. 

Corporate America depends on policies that pit working people against each other while they hoard the wealth that workers produce. This is what we are up against, and why the resistance persists. Immigration reform with a path to citizenship will give immigrant workers more rights in the workplace, more choices, and a voice at the ballot box. 

Voces de la Frontera has shown the collective power of workers, their families, and supporters through the community-wide general strike in past years when we had more time to scale up to the tens of thousands. This power, as well as strategic alliances, defeated local and state anti-immigrant bills such as a state “anti-sanctuary bill” in 2016 and the implementation of Milwaukee County’s partnership with ICE in 2017. We must deepen this work nationally, building leadership and unity to empower workers to use their solidarity to have an impact on profits and production, to have immigrant workers’ humanity recognized and their labor respected and to achieve our goal of immigration reform and make Wisconsin a pro-immigrant state. 

Together, we are stronger, more resilient and our collective struggle for justice will never bend or waver. It is a legacy handed down to our children and our children’s children. 

¡Hasta la victoria! Forward to victory!

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