On an icy day last February some 100 people assembled outside the ICE office in Milwaukee to protest racial profiling at courthouses in Milwaukee, Racine, Dane, Ozaukee, Waukesha, Kenosha, Walworth, Winnebago, Washington and Rock counties.
“Courts should be a safe place for people complying with or seeking protection from the legal system,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera.
Days before the demonstration, 22 Democratic members of the Wisconsin Legislature called on U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials to stop harassing people in the state’s halls of justice.
The demonstrators and lawmakers also urged an end to the deportations that separate children from their parents and grandparents.
Those calls were echoed throughout the year, as Republicans in the House refused to act on a comprehensive reform bill passed by the Senate and yet also failed to advance any legislation of their own.
Meanwhile, with deportations on his watch approaching 2 million, the president’s progressive coalition was splintering and immigrant rights activists began referring to him as “Deporter in Chief.” Still, he resisted pleas for executive action.
Not until after the midterm elections did Barack Obama announce executive action to protect some immigrant workers from deportation, make work permits eligible for about 4.1 million people who are in the United States illegally but whose children are lawful permanent residents and loosen eligibility requirements for a waiver program for people seeking green cards.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the president had poisoned the well. He wasn’t alone in working off the talking points memo issued by his party.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who is from Wisconsin, characterized Obama’s action as granting amnesty. “If he believed that his actions were urgent and that he had the constitutional authority all along, why did he wait six years into his presidency to act?” Priebus said. “If he believed he was doing the will of the American people and acting in the best interests of American workers and those waiting in line to become Americans, why did he wait until after this last election?”
On the Democratic side, there were those who quietly agreed the party would have done better on Nov. 4 had the president taken action on immigration earlier in the year.
And, among the activists who repeatedly called for reform, there was praise but caution.
“I have been in this movement for many years, and though I am one of those who will not benefit, I am not defeated,” said Guadalupe Romero, a Voces de la Frontera member who has lived in Milwaukee since 1990. “I will continue to fight for myself and all the people excluded from this relief.”
On Dec. 3, a coalition of 17 states, including Wisconsin, sued the Obama administration over the executive action.
The next day, the House voted mostly along party lines for the Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act, a bill that says the executive branch lacks the authority to stop certain deportations. The legislation was DOA in the Senate.