The Bibles, Badges and Business (BBB) Network that I talked about here in December and FWD.us are holding an immigration reform roundtable in Wausau on Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the UW Marathon County Center for Civic Engagement. “The roundtable discussion will foster a solutions-focused conversation by engaging business, law enforcement and faith leaders about immigration reform for our state’s economy and diverse communities,” said the organizers in their announcement.
Invited speakers include Ed Lump, President of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association; Tim O’Harrow, a dairy farmer; John Huebsher of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference; Darryl D. Morin, CEO of Advanced Wireless, Inc.; Tom Still, Wisconsin Tech Council and Erich Straub, a Milwaukee attorney specializing in immigration law. Marathon County Sheriff Scott Parks has also agreed to be there to offer his insights from a local law enforcement perspective.
The forum is part of a multi-state strategy to inform and demonstrate local support for comprehensive immigration reform in targeted congressional districts during the August recess. The hope is to get the House of Representatives to move forward with legislation, as the U.S. Senate has already done. After the first week of the effort and meetings in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum Ali Noorani said, “There’s no doubt that local leaders are coming out strong in support of legislators who are working toward commonsense reform. This first week shows that momentum for reform is only growing and a groundswell of support for immigration reform will carry members of Congress back to D.C. in September.”
Wisconsin 7th District Congressman Sean Duffy has been hard to read on the issue, at times seeming to support a path to citizenship and other times calling for some kind of legal status short of citizenship. What is clear is that he recognizes that there are problems with the present system. In the heart of America’s Dairyland, immigration reform is not just an academic issue for Duffy. The demographic changes and economic impact in his district are undeniably significant. A hardline anti-reform position could be difficult to sustain going forward, particularly in the face of more moderate stances being taken by some other Republican leaders, a growing Hispanic workforce in Central Wisconsin and the mega-millions in economic activity that depend on it.
For example, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported last October that unlike many of Wisconsin’s rural counties, Clark County added population from 2000 to 2010, growing by 3.4 percent to an estimated 34,690. The growth was fueled in large part by the Hispanic population, which grew by 219 percent between 2000 and 2010. At the same time, white population grew less than 1 percent. At least 40 percent of Wisconsin’s dairy workers are Hispanic now and that percentage is even higher in farms with more than 300 cows. Those trends have continued and a November 2012 report from Mario Koran, who formerly worked for the center, is stark: “Reed Welsh, Abbotsford School District administrator, said his district is one of the few in the area that has added students in recent years, thanks to the influx of immigrants. In 2000, just under 7 percent of students were Hispanic; now it’s just over 35 percent.” Abbotsford, as we know, sits on the Marathon County/Clark County line.
So, it will be interesting to see who shows up Wednesday and where the discussion will go. But looking at demographic trends, one thing is for sure and it is this: the immigration issue won’t be going away any time soon, whether people around here want to talk about it or not.
Media coverage of Aug. 14 immigration roundtable in Wausau: