Considered the largest state protest since Act 10 of 2011, tens of thousands of Latinos, immigrants and pro-immigration supporters from around the state packed the Capitol Thursday morning against what some describe as state anti-immigration legislation.
Organizers of “A Day without Latinos” or “Dia Sin Latinos” assembled at the state Capitol building at 10 a.m. to protest two controversial bills the Wisconsin State Legislature is trying to push.
Many UW students were also in attendance, including Oscar Hernandez, a member of UW-Milwaukee’s Youth Empowered in the Struggle (Y.E.S.), who was one of thousands of people who packed the Capitol rotunda.
“Even if the bills pass, what we gained is the consciousness of the people that attended and those that will read about this. We also showed politicians the willingness of the people to mobilize when our communities are under attack,” Hernandez said.
High school students in Madison walked out of class and boarded buses or marched to the Capitol. Many others left school, work, and businesses to attend the planned protest.
That included workers from the Hispanic grocery store El Rey. The Milwaukee chain closed all four stores so all 400 employees would have the opportunity to attend the rally.
Rosario Castillo of Sparta, Wis., traveled two hours to attend the rally in Madison.
“Dia Sin Latinos is so important because we need someone to help protect the future of our families,” Castillo said.
AB 450 and SB 533 are the two bills being protested. AB 450 would allow and strongly encourage police and public employees to investigate immigrant status and detain undocumented people for deportation if they are charged with crimes.
SB 533 seeks to block a program created last year to provide local identification cards particularly to immigrants and the homeless. The passing of this bill would enable many people to participate in basic aspects of civil living, from opening bank accounts to picking up prescriptions.
“If the police stop and approach me, and I don’t have no ID, just imagine what is going to happen,” Castillo said.
The Madison Police Department roughly estimated over 20,000 protestors. Many in the crowd held or wore American and Mexican flags chanting “Si, se Puede” and “Latinos, unidos, jamas serán vencidos” Spanish for “Yes, we can” and “Latinos, united, will never be defeated.”
“It was great seeing the unity of different Latinos and allies from Wisconsin,” Hernandez said.
On Tuesday, the Assembly passed AB 450, and it is currently pending in the Senate. Media reports on Saturday said the Senate may not take the bill up. SB 533 passed both houses and is now before Governor Walker for signing.