Hispanic community expresses concern over redistricting

Wisconsin’s controversial redistricting legislation has angered more than just Democrats. Members of Milwaukee’s Hispanic community are challenging the law in federal court, arguing that the changes will make it more difficult for them to elect representatives that reflect their district.

The lawsuit is being brought by Voces de la Frontera, a Milwaukee advocacy group that supports immigrants’ rights. The organization, as well as Democrats and other Hispanic groups, argue the redistricting is unconstitutional and violates federal law because it targets minority voters and moves a large population of voters from one district to another.

The lawsuit has been brought in front of three federal judges who wrapped up deliberations in late February.

The main districts in question for Hispanic voters are Districts 8 and 9 on Milwaukee’s South Side, represented by Reps. JoCasta Zamarripa and Josh Zepnick, respectively. The new maps make District 8 smaller and add more white-dominated areas from the original District 9, which would now include part of the original District 8.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, director of Voces de la Frontera, said the new redistricting maps dilute the Hispanic voting population.

“The new maps basically split District 8 in half,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “Experts on both sides of the case agreed that the new districts decrease the amount of eligible Latino voters.”

With these new measures in place, it will be much more difficult for Milwaukee’s Hispanic voters to elect a Hispanic representative to the state legislature.

Maricela Aguilar, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, is a member of Youth Empowered in the Struggle, a college chapter of Voces de la Frontera. She added that the case needed to be reviewed by federal judges because Voces de la Frontera lawyers and those representing Republican lawmakers couldn’t agree on how to revise the maps.

“This lawsuit was a federal case and due to the inability of the Voces lawyers and legislature lawyers to come to an agreement on an appropriate map, the case was handled by the courts,” Aguilar said. “Testimony was issued late in February, and a verdict on the case is likely to come in March.”

Neumann-Ortiz said that without having a Hispanic voice in the state legislature, many important issues within the Hispanic community could go unaddressed.

“It is about having a voice and representation in the state legislature,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “Our past representatives have been champions for us in fighting for Latino issues, such as immigration and immigrant students’ rights. It was essential to work with the assembly on these issues.”

In the past, the representative from District 8 has been the only Hispanic representative in the state legislature. Neumann-Ortiz added that diversity is vital to a truly representative legislature.

“Having Latino voices in the state assembly is absolutely fundamental,” she said. “We want to see that issues are addressed at the state level.”

Peter Earle, the lead attorney for Voces de la Frontera, said that Republican lawmakers who drew the maps were also violating the law by keeping the drawing of the maps secret, in addition to the accusations of gerrymandering.

“We now have documents that prove that the Republican leadership of the legislature was paying hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to private attorneys with the express purpose of hiding the legislative redistricting process from the public,” Earle said in a statement. “It’s now clear why Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald tried so hard to keep these documents hidden under their bogus claim of ‘attorney-client privilege.'”