From Farm to Factory: The Rural-Urban Coalition for Immigrants’ Rights

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Story by Zoe SullivanTwitter

Jenny Estrada lives in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a small city on Lake Michigan surrounded by dairy farms. She’s a rural organizer for Voces de la Frontera, an immigrants’ rights organization based in Milwaukee. “Lots of these small towns recognize that immigrants grew the town out,” she explains. “They realize that without immigrants, the town would die.”

Still, for immigrants who see friends and neighbors picked up by ICE when they appear for court dates or who hear about raids on dairy farms, the situation is tense. “People are afraid. The fear is real that [deportations] are going to happen.”

Part of Estrada’s work involves recruiting and training rapid response teams who protest ICE when the agency raids a workplace or picks up someone without papers. Group members will also accompany people to court dates since ICE has been using those situations to detain people. This kind of initiative, she says, along with know-your-rights trainings, create a space for non-immigrant community members to get involved and show solidarity.

“We’ve seen an uptick in volunteers. People are starting to realize that this is everybody’s issue,” Estrada said. “Before there were groups that didn’t work with Voces even though they were working on the same issues because they saw us as too political. That’s changed.”

Estrada’s work means dealing with prejudice and racism. “There’s been so much crap in the media,” she says. “There is definitely a divide between urban and rural areas. People will say: ‘You guys are exaggerating.’”

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