Thousands of activists flooded the west side of Madison's Capitol Square Monday protesting anti-immigration policy as part of the national "A Day without Latinos" movement.
The rally came after immigrant rights advocates marched from Brittingham Park on West Washington Street to the Capitol, where state officials and other speakers addressed the fired-up crowd.
In addition to Cieslewicz, state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk rallied for immigrant rights.
The speakers roused resounding cheers as immigrant rights advocates, both young and old, listened and waved hundreds of Mexican, American, and Central and South American flags. Latino music played in the background as marchers carried banners reading, "We are humans" and chanted, "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"
Advocates specifically protested federal legislation currently sitting within the U.S. Senate that aims to criminalize undocumented immigrants.
Proposed by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., House Resolution 4437 — which already passed through the U.S. House of Representatives last year — would make it a felony to reside within the country illegally and make those who help undocumented immigrants into criminals themselves.
While immigrant rights advocates argue the legislation is discriminatory and would unjustly criminalize some of the most productive contributors to the nation's economy, Sensenbrenner said in a release that stricter policy would protect the rest of American society.
"Illegal immigration is an expensive problem for law-abiding citizens," he said in response to last month's immigrant rights rally in Milwaukee. "It undermines the economy, and it puts undue pressure on people to pay even more in taxes to pay for those who are here in America."
And a handful of onlookers agreed, as a small group of rally protesters stood at the outskirts of Capitol Square holding signs that supported tougher border regulation and read, "White Americans. Who speaks for you?"
"If they're here illegally they can't really ask for much," one rally protester who wished to remain anonymous said of immigrants. "But I prefer for their sake that they come legally."
While the few rally protesters held their ground, even though they were outnumbered by the thousands, some immigrant rights advocates said they viewed the protesters' presence as evidence of the overt racism still very much alive in America.
University of Wisconsin graduate students Mike Quieto and Tony Barnes — both members of the South Central Federation of Labor — pointed to the rally protestors as discriminatory.
"They show very clearly what it takes to hate immigrants," Quieto said. "This country has a long history of hating migrants and traditionally is carried on by the Klan and skinheads and Jim Sensenbrenner."
Barnes added the hatred is not only uncalled for, but also hypocritical as America is a nation comprised of immigrants.
"[Immigrants] are working just like anyone else," he said. "It's only fair they share the same rights."
As people argued the hot-button issue of immigration policy in Madison Monday, a nationwide series of rallies were also held in anticipation for the U.S. Senate's upcoming decision on the issue.
The U.S. Senate is expected to debate its companion version of HR 4437 soon when the body returns from recess.