Milwaukee County, like many metropolitan areas in America, has a proud, working-class history with diverse immigrant roots. We are known internationally as the City of Festivals, through which we celebrate our many ethnic heritages.
As Wisconsin’s economic engine, it’s no surprise that we also boast one of the largest and fastest-growing Latino populations in our state. As with each immigrant community that preceded it, this community is a dynamic one, full of entrepreneurism and a shared desire to promote our shared values and economic vitality.
As the daughters of immigrants, and now, as the local and state elected officials who represent these same communities, we understand that the pursuit of the American dream is rooted in a basic sense of opportunity and, the need for a fair shot at success.
The city and county of Milwaukee recently expanded access to this American dream to all of their residents. After extensive public hearings, public debate, and many votes on this proposed partnership, both the city and the county adopted legislation to begin offering local identification cards for residents.
Local IDs have had important economic and social impacts in communities across the country, including in some with the most challenging socio-economic landscapes. They provide crucial information to employers seeking to hire residents. They enable members of the community to open bank accounts and cash checks. They allow residents to take out a library book and enjoy a community’s cultural assets. Local ID cards also have improved law enforcement efforts and promoted public safety because residents become more willing to report criminal activity if they have the proper identification.
Our research into local IDs suggests that Milwaukee and its residents will experience similar benefits. The IDNYC has been a great success, with nearly a half-million New Yorkers taking advantage of the many resources that come along with their own local ID cards. Last August, more than 30,000 free memberships had been activated at local cultural institutions. Residents will find it easier to get jobs, to pay their bills and to access educational institutions that promote deeper community ties and greater productivity.
But once again, our efforts to uplift our community are being tamped down by some legislative Republicans who are attempting to prohibit the issuance of local IDs. Although this is just the latest in a long string of attacks on local control in Milwaukee, (from taking over public schools to consolidating power in the county executive’s office), this effort will have serious impacts on our ability to promote job creation and public safety. For a party that claims a commitment to local control and economic development, this effort makes such claims appear as nothing more than lip service at best and xenophobia at worst.
The state bill’s co-sponsors, who seek to prohibit this local decision, falsely claim that local IDs will be used as tools to promote voter fraud. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no left-wing conspiracy to undermine our elections. They should know what is required to vote in Wisconsin since they rewrote our election laws to make it harder to vote, but easier for politicians to raise endless cash from corporate interests. Their argument is nothing but a red herring that has no merit and no place in our local governance.
Their tactics smell of the same, extreme scare tactics that their party’s presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, uses as he touts building walls and deporting children. However, recent polls in Wisconsin show that our state has been cool to his divisive and hateful rhetoric, perhaps due to our rich immigrant heritage.
Let’s unite Milwaukee. Let’s make it a more-welcoming, safer place for everyone to live and have the opportunity to work hard to achieve the American dream. Let’s celebrate our diversity and the many different immigrant cultures that helped build our city and county — for us and for future generations to enjoy. Let’s give our residents a hand up. Stop attacking local control in Milwaukee and start building one Milwaukee now.
JoCasta Zamarripa is a Democratic state legislator representing the 8th Assembly District. Marina Dimitrijevic is a Milwaukee County supervisor representing the 4th District.