Wearing white T-shirts and marching to chants of “S? Se Puede,” which translates roughly to “Yes We Can” in Spanish, Milwaukee and Madison marchers Saturday called for a repeal of a recent Arizona immigration law and for President Barack Obama and Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
The nation’s toughest immigration policy was signed into law in Arizona April 23, giving police the right to detain anyone whom they suspect of being in the country illegally, as well as making it a crime for an immigrant to fail to carry immigration documents.
Opponents say the law legalizes racial profiling and will encourage discrimination and harassment of Hispanics.
Seven other states are considering passing legislation similar to the Arizona immigration law, event organizers said.
Voces de la Frontera (Voices From the Border), which organized the Milwaukee event, presented a resolution to create an economic boycott against all Arizona corporations until the law is repealed, as well as encourage general federal immigration reform. The resolution will be introduced into the Milwaukee Common Council Tuesday.
Without comprehensive legislation reform, a “return to Jim Crow segregation and violence” is what is at stake under the Arizona law, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, national leader of Voces de la Frontera, said.
“We are here to send a message of solidarity against forces of hatred and bigotry,” Neumann-Ortiz said.
An estimated 65,000 people participated in the Milwaukee march, according to a statement from Voces del Frontera.
Among the speakers at the demonstration was Omar Damian Ortega, an undocumented immigrant who worked as a welder in Milwaukee and was injured on the job. When he filed for workers’ compensation, Ortega was reported to immigration services by West Bend Mutual Insurance and is now under a deportation order.
“I am a worker. I am not a criminal,” Ortega said. “Just as this injustice has taken place against me, it can happen to you.”
The Milwaukee and Madison demonstrations were among more than 60 May Day marches that took place across the nation calling for more liberal immigration policies.
The Immigrant Workers Union organized the Madison rally Saturday, with hundreds of people marching from Brittingham Park to the state Capitol while chanting “Justicia Ahora (Justice Now)” and wearing shirts that said “Do I look illegal?’”
Dane County Supervisor Barbara Vedder, District 2, read a statement from the Dane County Equal Opportunity Commission which said the commission was “unanimous in opposition to the Arizona law,” because it encurages racial profiling. Student activist Mario Gomez spoke at the Milwaukee rally of the difficulties many immigrant students face in paying tuition for non-University of Wisconsin schools. As a high school senior, Gomez said he was unsure how he would pay for college because he cannot apply for financial aid and most scholarships.
“It’s better to live on your feet than to die on your knees,” Ortiz said as the Milwaukee program drew to a close. “Wisconsin is not Arizona, and we will not let Wisconsin become Arizona.”