Voces de la Frontera (Spanish for “Voices of the Border”) was founded in 1995 as an Austin, Texas bilingual newspaper edited by immigration activist Christine Neumann-Ortiz and devoted to “championing immigrant rights and wider social justice issues.” In 1998 Voces relocated to Wisconsin and evolved into an immigrant-rights group advocating for “the legalization of undocumented workers in the United States,” with a particular emphasis on illegal aliens in Wisconsin.
In 2001 Voces opened a volunteer-run Workers’ Center in Milwaukee, to address “the immediate problems that confronted low-wage and immigrant workers.” Three years later the organization established a new office in the city of Racine, as well as a campus chapter called Students United for Immigrant Rights. Subsequent to this, Voces created a second youth arm, Students United in the Struggle.
Voces continued to grow in 2005, appointing a number of additional staffers and officially naming Christine Neumann-Ortiz as its first executive director. Later that year, the organization mobilized tens of thousands of people in a campaign against H.R. 4437 – the so-called “Sensenbrenner bill” – which sought to strengthen America’s border security and its interior enforcement of immigration laws.
In 2006 Voces led three high-profile demonstrations in support of amnesty, open borders, and employment rights for illegal aliens. The smallest of these events drew some 25,000 people, and the largest drew approximately 70,000. That November, Voces’s “Voto Latino” campaign helped bring about a 32% increase in voter turnout in target areas of Milwaukee, and a 20% increase in Racine.
In 2008 Voces carried out another massive voter-registration drive designed to increase Latino turnout at the polls in Milwaukee and Racine, in hopes of helping to elect Barack Obama as President of the United States.
In 2009 Voces celebrated the Wisconsin legislature’s passage of a bill permitting illegal-immigrant students who resided in that state to qualify for the same college tuition discounts that were available to in-state legal residents.
In February 2010, Voces launched Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES!), to replace the aforementioned Students United for Immigrant Rights and Students United in the Struggle. Voces and its youth subsidiaries have long supported the DREAM Act, legislation designed to provide a path-to-citizenship and in-state tuition discounts for illegal immigrants who first came to the United States as minors and are still younger than 35. “Every year,” laments Voces, “65,000 U.S.-raised students who graduate from high school – often as honor roll students or star athletes – have their dreams of continuing their education shattered” as a result of their “undocumented” status.
In 2011 Voces helped persuade the Milwaukee County Board to pass a resolution limiting local law-enforcement’s cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Also that year, Voces’s annual May Day Solidarity March in Milwaukee drew approximately 100,000 people “protesting our broken immigration system and anti-immigrant policies” under the slogan “Stop Separating Families!”
In 2011-12, Voces was a plaintiff in two federal lawsuits “to protect voting rights and guarantee the integrity of the Latino voting bloc in Milwaukee.” First, Voces and the NAACP together sued the state of Wisconsin “after passage of an onerous Photo ID requirement that disproportionately impacted minorities, immigrants, the elderly and the poor.” Second,Voces sued Wisconsin for having created a congressional redistricting map that “did not accurately reflect the 44% growth of the Latino community in Milwaukee,” thereby “dilut[ing] the power of the Latino vote in two majority districts by carving an arbitrary line in the middle of the Latino community.”
In 2013 Voces lobbied all eight of Wisconsin’s congressional representatives, as well as its two U.S. senators, to support a pro-amnesty “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill” that ultimately died in Congress.
A staunch supporter of the New Sanctuary Movement, Voces enthusiastically backed President Obama’s two executive actions pertaining to illegal immigrants: (a) the 2012 “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program that provided most DREAM Act-eligible individuals with legal status, work permits, access to certain publicly funded social services, and protection from deportation for a period of two years; and (b) the 2014 “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents” (DAPA) program, which authorized similar benefits for millions of illegals not covered by the DACA edict. Voces executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz hailed DAPA as a “historic step towards equality.”
Voces has long demanded that Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke stop cooperating with ICE’s Secure Communities program, which enables local law-enforcement to use immigration databases to identify people in U.S. jails who are deportable under immigration law. In April 2017, Clarke called Voces a “slimy” organization and explained that “the law requires local governments to cooperate and assist [ICE] in carrying out their lawful authority to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.”
Voces’s major initiatives today include the following:
(a) The Workers’ Rights campaign condemns “the targeting of immigrant workers” by immigration authorities, and makes no distinction between legal and illegal immigrants.
(b) The Civil Rights and Policing campaign – founded on the premise that America is replete with “discrimination and racial hatred” against nonwhite immigrants – seeks to document and punish cases where such individuals are subjected to “unjust deportations,” “racial discrimination,” and “violations of civil and labor rights.” Toward this end, Voces has set up a telephone hotline where people can report these transgressions.
(c) The Drivers’ Licenses campaign maintains that it is “in the public interest in terms of public safety” to allow illegal aliens to obtain licenses.
(d) The Get-Out-The-Vote campaign strives to increase voter registration and turnout in key locations like Milwaukee and Racine. To supplement these efforts, Voces offers classes in citizenship, voter education, and grassroots organizing.