Thousands from all over Wisconsin gathered at the Capitol Thursday to protest two bills they believe would make life difficult for immigrant workers in the state.
The first bill, known as the sanctuary city bill, would allow police to ask immigrants about their immigration status. The second bill would prohibit local governments from giving IDs to undocumented immigrants.
Voces de la Frontera, a Milwaukee-based workers’ center established in 2001, organized the protest, Sam Singleton-Freeman, spokesperson for the center, said.
The bills have been in hearing since Jan. 30 and more than a thousand people have testified against them, Singleton-Freeman said. But legislators have not been paying attention to their testimonies.
“They don’t care what people say in testimonies,” Singleton-Freeman said. “The Legislature doesn’t think immigrants deserve anything.”
Two weeks ago, members of Voces de la Frontera began planning the protest in support of Latino and Latina immigrant workers, which they named “Día sin Latinos e inmigrantes.”
On the day of the protest, hundreds of businesses closed in support of immigrant workers, Singleton-Freeman said.
“There are protests all the time at the state capitol. It doesn’t affect the economy one way or another,” Gov. Scott Walker told reporters Thursday.
Carla Gutierrez, a protester, said Wisconsin needs immigrant workers and hopes the legislators behind the bills reconsider their decision.
Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, said in a statement he supports the bills because they enforce lawful immigration. He said legal immigrants in Wisconsin would not support the protest and called for more action from the federal government.
“Entering the country illegally has never, and should not be, part of the American Dream,” Stroebel said.
In a media availability session during the protest, Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, said the likelihood of the sanctuary city bill failing is small. She said protesters at the capitol hoped to not only make legislators aware of their plight, but also Walker.
Outside, student protesters chanted, “we are the migrants, the mighty, mighty migrants.”
Dana Vukelich-Selva, who also took part in the protest, said the bills are instances of “unfettered racism” and are just a way to blame the country’s economic problems on someone else.
“Anytime you look in history we’ve blamed somebody else,” Vukelich-Selva said. “We blame the Irish, the Germans or the Italians, so now the people are blaming the Mexicans, and that shouldn’t be happening.”
José Valadez, one of the main organizers of the protest, said this was not a partisan issue, but rather an issue of who has more power and influence than others.
“When one person protests against one lawmaker, it’s a 50-50 situation,” Valadez said. “But when 20 people try to create one law and 10,000 go and protest, who do you think is wrong?”
Virginia, Arizona, Florida and North Carolina have already passed similar bills, Singleton-Freeman said,
The bill prohibiting immigrants from obtaining local ID now heads to Walker’s desk, and the sanctuary city bill heads to the Senate.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that both bills were headed to Walker’s desk. The Badger Herald regrets this error.