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US Deputy Secretary of Commerce makes Milwaukee stop, visits with Latino leaders

Trip is one of many recent visits from key Biden officials ahead of 2024 election

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U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves (left) makes a stop in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. Evan Casey/WPR

U.S. Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves met with Puerto Rican and Latino leaders in Milwaukee as part of a visit to Wisconsin.

It’s one of several recent Wisconsin visits from members of the Biden administration ahead of the 2024 election — another reminder of the importance the swing state will play in the election.

Graves said there’s a large Puerto Rican population in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin. Part of his visit included discussing ways to ensure there’s economic growth in that community, which is the second-highest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States.

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“We talked about the opportunity to create good economic opportunities, pathways and create jobs in communities like Milwaukee but also in places like Puerto Rico,” Graves said following a roundtable with several city leaders at Milwaukee City Hall on Wednesday.

Graves also serves as the Economic Growth Coordinator for Puerto Rico.

Puerto Ricans started to come to Wisconsin in large numbers following World War II, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society. An estimated 5.8 million Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin lived in the U.S. in 2021, according to a Pew Research Center report.

The U.S. Hispanic population reached 62.1 million in 2020, an increase of 23 percent over the previous decade. Nearly 20 percent of the city of Milwaukee’s population is Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census.

Milwaukee Common Council President José Pérez, the first Latino elected as Common Council president, said the “changing infrastructure” in America is one issue for Puerto Ricans who come to America from the island.

“Folks arrive from the island looking for opportunity,” Perez said. “Either we have folks that are underemployed and not educated or they leave the island because they are educated and there’s not opportunity there.”

Darryl Morin, the national president for Forward Latino, was also in the roundtable meeting for a few minutes.

“I think it says a lot, especially here in the Milwaukee area where we have such a vibrant Puerto Rican community, that the deputy secretary (Graves), out of all the places he could have gone, chose Milwaukee to come and share the information of the investment that’s going to Puerto Rico and some of the lessons that they think they’re learning there that they can apply here to our local benefit,” Morin said.

Graves also made other stops in Milwaukee, Madison and La Crosse where he had “discussions with community leaders about the Biden Administration and the Department’s investments in climate resilience, internet access, and trade,” according to a news release.

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