Workers, students, and activists walked off the job and out of their schools for a massive action in Wisconsin on Thursday, protesting two anti-immigration bills currently advancing through the state legislature.
Thousands of Wisconsinites converged at the State Capitol in Madison for A Day Without Latinos and Immigrants, organized by the grassroots rights group Voces de la Frontera, among other organizations. The action is being updated on Twitter with the hashtag #DayWithoutLatinos.
The crowd chanted "Si se puede/Yes we can!" and brandished signs reading, "We are workers, not criminals" and "Wisconsin is not Arizona," a reference to the state that in 2010 passed infamous legislation that opponents said encouraged racial profiling of Latinos. Fusion reported that at least 14,000 people are in attendance.
"Today we are seeing a general strike of thousands of Latino and immigrant workers that is causing major disruption in industries throughout Wisconsin," said Voces de la Frontera executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. "Workers and their families are mobilizing on the Capitol to tell Governor [Scott] Walker and the Wisconsin State Senate to stop these racist, anti-immigrant bills from moving forward. Wisconsin needs Latino and immigrant workers, and today everybody knows it."
The bills in question are AB450/SB369 (pdf), which would prevent cities and towns from enacting legislation that prohibits employees from inquiring about the immigration status of an individual who has been charged with a crime; and SB533/AB723, which would block counties from issuing local identification cards to people who cannot access state IDs.
According to Voces de la Frontera, this legislation is racist and, in the case of AB450/SB369, would lead police to detain undocumented people for deportation.
Thursday's action is also a call to the presidential candidates to earn the support of immigrants and workers, Neumann-Ortiz said.
"This battle is giving us the opportunity to build a statewide structure to organize the Latino vote that will challenge any candidate who is anti-immigrant in 2016 and beyond," she said. "Wisconsin's fight reminds us that Latino and immigrant workers are willing to flex their economic power to send the message that they will not stand idly by while politicians try to pass laws that threaten their families and take for granted their labor."
Wisconsin State Rep. Melissa Sargent wrote in an op-ed for the Daily Cardinal on Thursday that xenophobic legislation has turned immigration into "something to attack rather than celebrate."
The bills under consideration "limit our local governments in their ability to deal with their communities in a way that aligns with their shared values," she wrote. "We have to move away from talk of biometric tracking and stopping all people from specific religions from entering our nation. That is not who we are as a country. Simply put, we are better than the rhetoric we hear on the evening news."
"Our communities cannot succeed if we live in fear of our friends and neighbors," she wrote.