Thousands of students, workers, families and allies flocked to the state Capitol Thursday morning to protest two immigration bills being considered by state Legislature. The movement, called “A Day Without Latinos and Immigrants,” quickly became a national trend on Twitter.
Downtown streets were closed off. According to the Madison Police Department, the crowd was estimated at about 20,000 people at its peak.
Some protesters came from other cities and suburbs across the state. The rally was in response to bills some consider to be discriminatory towards Latinos and immigrants.
The first bill, SB 533, would prevent towns and counties from issuing photo ID cards, with the exception of employee ID cards, cards for vendors or contractors and cards required to use services and facilities like transit systems. IDs previously issued by towns or counties could not be used to vote, register to vote or obtain public benefits. Cities and villages could still issue photo IDs, but those IDs also could not be used for proof of residence or to receive public assistance. The bill has been approved by both the state Senate and the Assembly.
The second bill, AB 450, bans municipalities from passing laws that would prevent law enforcement officers from questioning the immigration status of people who have been arrested. It passed the Assembly on Tuesday.
Around 200 students from Madison East High School gathered in front of their school at 8:30 a.m. and walked to the Capitol in support of the rally. Many drivers who passed by honked in support while others screamed obscenities. As the students marched, they filled the air with several chants:
“Si se puede!” (Yes we can)
“Wisconsin is not Arizona!”
“Hey hey! Ho ho! State legislation has to go!”
“Up up with education, Down down with deportation!”
Once students arrived at the Capitol, they were welcomed by a massive crowd that joined them in the protest.
Families and students from Milwaukee, Waukesha, Fond du Lac, Racine and other areas took work and school off to be present. Two sisters from Waukesha, Ashley and Vanessa Chavez, came to do what they said was “justice for their family.”
“This is discrimination and we had to come here to show we do not support this,” said Ashley, a student at Butler Middle School. “There are a lot of people here and it’s wonderful.”
Vanessa, who attends North High School in Waukesha, said “I’m here to fight for our rights and to feel free."
Latino workers at some local businesses were encouraged to take the day off to demonstrate the impact they have on the economy. As the crowd gathered, speakers on stage encouraged everyone to vote to make a difference.
African-American organizations and leaders from the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, the Urban League of Greater Madison and Pastor Harold E. Rayford of Faith, Hope and Love Family Church attended the rally to show support.
Badger High School senior Marciela Mendoza and her classmates took a bus from Lake Geneva to Madison to stand in solidarity with the community.
“I don’t believe this is fair and I have friends and family that might be affected by it,” Marciela said. “I believe if we all come together we can change the law.”