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As families in Mississippi struggled with the aftermath of Wednesday’s raids by federal immigration officials who detained 680 undocumented workers, Madison leaders and community members declared the city a safe and welcoming place for immigrants at a rally Thursday.

“We are here to stay,” shouted the crowd of more than 100 people on the steps of the state Capitol.

Immigrants from Honduras, India, Brazil and other countries spoke of what they have overcome to live in America — some pausing to translate their words into Spanish. And lawmakers advocated for policies to support undocumented immigrants, including a state bill that would make Wisconsin a sanctuary state.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi told undocumented immigrants that he stands with them, and Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway declared loudly to the crowd that “everyone is welcome here in Madison.”

On Wednesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents conducted coordinated raids on several food-processing plants in Mississippi, leaving some children with no parents as other migrants locked themselves in their homes. By Thursday morning, more than 300 of those initially detained were released.

“ICE is not welcome in this community,” said Mario Garcia Sierra, former board chair for Centro Hispano, a Dane County organization that works to empower Latino youth. “We won’t allow ICE to come here and do more raids.”

Speakers condemned hate and violence toward immigrant communities throughout the nation. Attendees observed a moment of silence for the 22 people killed and 24 injured Aug. 3 in a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The suspected shooter, Patrick Crusius, 21, may have been motivated by a hatred of Latinos and immigrants, authorities said.

“The American dream is quickly turning into an American nightmare,” said Dane County Sup. Yogesh Chawla, 6th District, whose family came to the U.S. from India in 1976.

Speakers also called for an end to detention facilities where children of asylum seekers are being held near the southern border.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said President Donald Trump’s rhetoric encourages violence and xenophobia, and those attitudes toward minorities will not be tolerated in Madison, nor Wisconsin.

Stephanie Salgado, who came to the U.S. from Honduras in 2015 with her family, said her family left because of the gang violence and instability in her home country. But when she came to America, she experienced xenophobia and saw hate in people’s eyes because of her native language.

Salgado said she was made to feel “little” and like the world was against her.

But Salgado said that although the current climate in the U.S. leaves immigrants feeling vulnerable and scared, now is the time to come together and take action.

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“We are stronger together and we are here to stay,” Salgado said, translating her words to Spanish as well. “We are not rapists, we are not gang members, and we are the ones willing to work the most for the least because we all have a dream.”

Elected officials and immigrant advocates called for state legislation that would:

  • Make Wisconsin a sanctuary state.
  • Give undocumented Wisconsin teens in-state tuition at University of Wisconsin System schools.
  • Allow undocumented immigrants to have drivers licenses.
  • Block for-profit private detention centers from being built in Wisconsin.
  • Prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of citizenship or immigration status.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, also called for Wisconsin’s congressional representatives to push for the defunding of ICE.

“We will not stop our efforts until we create safe communities for all of our community members,” Taylor said.

Dave Gorak, executive director of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration, said he represents those who are “pro-enforcement” in Wisconsin. Gorak said he supports the ICE raids that happened in Mississippi because when immigrants are in the U.S. and are undocumented, they are disrespecting the laws of the country.

“We’re a sovereign nation, and all we’re doing is enforcing our laws,” Gorak said.

Parisi, however, said there should be a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Garcia Sierra said immigrants are a valuable part of Wisconsin’s economy, working in many restaurants and in the agricultural industry.

“The immigrant community does so much for the state of Wisconsin,” Garcia Sierra said.

Madison School Board member Ananda Mirilli, an immigrant from Brazil, said she has “survived” being undocumented, but she still lives in fear. She said undocumented immigrants will remain strong, despite the many attempts to “destroy” them.

“We are here,” Mirilli said.

“We are the most resilient people to have ever walked in this land,” she said. “We are here to stay.”

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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Emily Hamer is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She joined the paper in April 2019 and was formerly an investigative reporting intern at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.