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Robin Vos under fire for racist comment blaming “immigrant culture” for COVID-19 outbreak in Racine

Less than 24 hours after a recording became public of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos blaming a coronavirus outbreak in Racine County on “immigrant culture,” critics have responded with calls for the GOP leader to resign or apologize.

On the recording of a phone call last month with Governor Tony Evers, Vos blamed high numbers of COVID-19 cases in Racine on immigrants, which are predominately Latino.

“I know the reason, at least in my region,” Vos said in the recording, “it’s because of a large immigrant population where, you know, it’s just a difference in culture where people are living much closer and working much closer.”

Following Vos’ comments, State Representative Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, called for Vos to resign on Twitter:

@repvos should should step down from his position immediately. This is racist as hell and totally unacceptable.

Racine County has emerged as a hotspot for coronavirus cases in the state and the nation. As of June 11, the county had 1,966 positive cases and 51 deaths according to data from the state Department of Health Services. There are 1,006 positive cases per 100,000 people in Racine — a much higher rate than most counties in the state.

As in Milwaukee, the hardest hit communities in Racine have been communities of color. About 45 percent of the city of Racine’s population identifies as African American or Latino. About 85 percent of the coronavirus cases in the city are people of color.

Also on June 11, Forward Latino held a press conference to address comments made by Vos. The group’s president Darryl Morin demanded Vos apologize, and to work with Governor Evers to help companies provide protection for their employees.

Morin mentioned comments made by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack in May as another example of racism in the state’s political leadership. During virtual hearings in the lawsuit over the “Safer at Home” order issued by Governor Evers, Roggensack said that the hundreds of COVID-19 cases connected to meat packing plants in Brown County “weren’t just the regular folks in Brown County.”

Morin said the events of the last several weeks have startled the collective consciousness of the country, and that the death of George Floyd was the tipping point.

“Now is not the time for partisanship but for good governance,” Moran said. “We are in the middle of a pandemic. Now is a time for leadership.”

Jenny Tasse, a spokesperson with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation said leaders cannot blame one group like immigrants for the coronavirus.

“In the Jewish community we are all too familiar with this dangerous trope,” Tasse said. “Immigrants are the blood of our communities. Rather than deflect and blame, Speaker Vos should applaud the workers that keep our communities running.”

ACLU of Wisconsin executive director Chris Ott said that Vos should be thanking and rewarding essential workers, not blaming them. Instead of scapegoating immigrants and trying to pathologize whole cultures, Vos should use his power to protect people of color and other groups most affected by the virus.

“Speaker Vos should apologize or explain his claim that the outbreak of COVID-19 in Racine is a product of ‘immigrant culture.’ It’s a product of immigrants being more likely to have jobs as essential workers, which puts them at higher risk of infection,” said Ott. “It’s also a product of racial discrimination and economic disadvantages which raise barriers to adequate healthcare and often deny immigrants and people of color the safer work and living conditions that others benefit from.”

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