Wisconsin Milks Its Undocumented Dairy Workers

Aug 3, 2023
11:55 AM

Caleb Santiago Alvarado/ProPublica

By ROMAN GRESSIER, El Faro English

An in-depth investigation by ProPublica’s Melissa Sanchez and Maryam Jameel shows how the state of Wisconsin allows undocumented immigrants to purchase and own a car in their name but forbids them from getting behind the wheel.

Predominantly Mexican and Nicaraguan undocumented workers in the state dairy industry —the second-largest in the United States, dubbed the American Dairyland— are condemned to the margins of rural communities whose economies rely on their labor.

“The state makes it almost impossible for workers to have lives outside the farm without breaking the law,” the reporters write. “Those who drive anyway are pulled over again and again and again, and issued tickets that eat away at their wages.”

“The thing is, farmers need (immigrant workers) to drive, so it’s a catch-22 for a lot of folks,” said Primitivo Torres Martínez, deputy director for statewide civic engagement for Voces de la Frontera, the state’s largest immigrant rights advocacy group.

Some dairy workers have paid thousands of dollars in fines since the state prohibited undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses in 2006.

In counties where under ten percent of the population identifies as Hispanic, this group often receives over half of all tickets issued for driving without a license, drawing widespread accusations of racial profiling, ProPublica found.

Read the investigation in full here.

This investigation is a follow-up to ProPublica’s February exposé, cross-published with El Faro English and Wisconsin Watch, of how the lack of safety inspections in the state dairy industry and, especially, language barriers led to a false accusation against a Nicaraguan worker of accidentally killing his own child while working on a dairy farm.