If a bus or plane of migrants is sent to Milwaukee, is the city ready to handle the issue?
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- City leaders and organizations aim to welcome and facilitate the needs of migrants if busses or planes of people from Latin American countries arrive in Milwaukee, while also denouncing the actions of the Republican governors responsible for sending those migrants to northern cities as part of a political ploy.
Over recent weeks, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered busses of migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border be sent to northern cities, including New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. Most recently, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for sending a plane of migrants to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. The actions are part of an effort to criticize the immigration policies of President Joe Biden as unlawful border crossings have set records this year.
"We haven't had those discussions, that's something we should take up," Ald. JoCasta Zamarripa told CBS 58 when asked if city leaders had a plan in place if a scenario similar to what has played out in cities like Chicago, Washington D.C. and Martha's Vineyard happens in Milwaukee.
With the backdrop of a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at City Hall, Zamarripa emphasized the importance of respecting migrants, no matter their background.
"We have to discuss pragmatically and realistically what we're going to do moving forward but let us not forget the vast contributions of immigrants whether they were Germans or Polish generations ago or Latino today," Zamarripa said.
At an event on Milwaukee's near west side, Mayor Cavalier Johnson criticized the actions of Governors Abbott and DeSantis.
"I think that's terrible, it's disgusting," Johnson told CBS 58.
Johnson said Milwaukee has a tradition of being a welcoming city to people seeking help and hopes that tradition would continue in the future, if needed.
"If that were to happen and folks were to come here, I would hope that we would treat those folks with the highest level of human dignity," Johnson said. "I think that's what they deserve and I think that's what this community would expect."
But the bulk of the work would likely fall on the shoulders of local organizations to address the needs of migrants who potentially may arrive in the community. One of them is Voces de la Frontera.
"It is dehumanizing, they're using them as a political stunt," Voces deputy director Primitivo Torres Martinez said in an interview in reference to the recent events of migrants being sent to northern cities. "These are people who are seeking help, these are people who are fleeing violence, these are people who are fleeing death."
The immigrant advocacy group said they are preparing for the potential of asylum seekers arriving in Milwaukee, an issue the group has focused on for nearly two decades.
"If people were to show up here tomorrow, we are ready for them and we will welcome them to our city," Martinez said.
One area Voces is focusing on preparing for is the legal need faced by migrants seeking asylum.
"We are already dealing with families that are already here that are seeking asylum so our center's actually getting trained on how to do the phase one of asylum cases for these folks," Martinez explained. "Asylum is very complex and it's probably one of the most complex immigration law that could exist so you don't actually have a lot of lawyers that do pro bono work around these kinds of cases, people come with just the shirts on their back, so they cannot pay $3,000, $5,000 to start their cases, so we at Voces are gearing up to actually do some of the legal work for them for free."
Other organizations told CBS 58 they are ready to address the issue, if necessary.
"Although preparation for this specific scenario of providing services to a bus load of immigrant refugees arriving in Milwaukee has not been discussed, UMOS is prepared to assist with short, mid-range and long range assistance," a representative for UMOS said in a statement.
UMOS further explained short range assistance would consist of meals and food supplies from their food pantry. Mid-range assistance would include enrollment in ESL and GED programs along with enrollment in workforce development programs to assist with obtaining long-term, family supporting employment.
Lutheran Social Services is also prepared, having had experience in serving and assisting refugees most recently from Afghanistan and Ukraine.
Bishop Paul Erickson of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America told CBS 58 he acknowledges there would be logistical challenges to helping migrants who were sent to the community unannounced by southern states, but said he expects congregations to step up to the moment such as they have in the past.
"It reminds me of the best of who we are," Rev. Erickson told CBS 58 in a phone interview.