August 24th, 2017
On Thursday I went to the office of Voces de la Frontera to pick up a guy in order to drive him to the Milwaukee County Courthouse. I walked into the office and met my passenger, Marcos. He’s a short man (even shorter than me), and he wears a baseball cap to hide his bald spot, and maybe to make him look a bit taller. Marcos and I made the fifteen minute drive from Voces to the County Courthouse so that he could be present for his appointment in the small claims court. We had to wait a little while for the courtroom to open at 1:30. After that, things went quickly. Marcos met a lawyer, signed some papers, and we were out of there. I don’t know why Marcos had to be in the small claims court. It’s none of my business. I was just the court accompaniment guy.
I do CA (Court Accompaniment) for the New Sanctuary Movement, which is a group that works in conjunction with Voces de la Frontera, which is a local organization that promotes the rights of workers and immigrants. CA is a program in which a volunteer escorts an immigrant to a court appearance. It might be a court appearance in Milwaukee, or in Waukesha, or in Racine, or even in Chicago. The volunteer goes along with the immigrant to wherever he or she needs to go. The volunteer does not act as a lawyer or as an interpreter. The volunteer is just there.
Why? Why should a volunteer tag along with an immigrant to a court appearance? There are couple reasons. First, the immigrant might just need a ride to the courthouse. That happens. Second, the immigrant may not be fluent in English, and the volunteer might be able to give some guidance. Third, and perhaps most important, the immigrant might be scared shitless about going into a courthouse alone. In the present political climate, an immigrant, legal or otherwise, is very leery about going places where there are lots of cops. Considering that David Clarke is Sheriff of Milwaukee County, and that Clarke wholeheartedly supports President Trump’s draconian immigration policies, these people have good reason to be concerned.
The fact is that the New Sanctuary Movement wants some legitimate-looking white guy (or woman) to ride shotgun with these Latino immigrants. As some people might notice, I don’t look particularly respectable, but I am available for the job. Somehow, I provide a modicum of safety and comfort to the people that I escort. If trouble occurs, is there much that I can do? Not really. I can report back to the folks at Voces. Otherwise, I am just providing moral support to the people that need to be in the courtroom. Maybe that is enough.
The immigrants have to go to court for a variety of reasons. I took one woman to court in Racine because she had been busted three times for driving without a license. Typically, the question arises as to why this person would have no license.
The answer probably is: she can’t get a license. Only twelve states in the Union allow an undocumented person to get drivers licenses. Wisconsin is not one of those states. In this state, we would prefer that a person who is unable to prove that they are a legal resident or a U.S. citizen be denied a license. That way we can bust the person for driving without a license, and then bitch that those undocumented immigrants are all lawbreakers. An undocumented person who is denied a license will probably still drive. They still need to get to work. They still need to care for their families. With our laws, we just create a Catch-22 for immigrants, in order to make their lives more difficult.
When I go to court with people, I spend time waiting around. I have time to notice things. One thing that I have seen is that most the folks appearing in court are people of color. Why is that? Back in April, when I got arrested for civil disobedience in Las Vegas, I saw the same sort of thing. Most of the people that were in the jail with me were black or Latino. Is this because blacks and Latinos are more likely to commit crimes than white folks? Somehow, I doubt that. Is it because blacks and Latinos are more likely to get pulled over by the police? That seems more plausible. Are my observations proof of racism? No, but they suggest that something is very wrong with the picture.
I volunteer as a CA because I want to make the lives of immigrants slightly less difficult. Maybe I can make things just a bit easier for them. Maybe I can show them that somebody cares.