Thousands of Students, Workers Amass at Capitol for ‘Day Without Latinos and Immigrants’

Doug Erickson, Wisconsin State Journal, February 19, 2016

Angered by bills in the state Legislature they consider anti-immigrant, thousands of Latinos and their allies descended Thursday on the state Capitol in what they hoped would be a persuasive show of unity and opposition.

The rally, called “A Day Without Latinos and Immigrants in Wisconsin,” also sought to convey the economic power of the Latino community by illustrating what would happen if thousands of Latino employees and business owners didn’t show up for work.

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The Capitol Police Department estimated the crowd size inside the Capitol and on the grounds at 14,000. The Madison Police Department estimated there were 20,000 people on the streets around the Capitol at the peak of the day’s march.

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Many protesters were Madison students, some of whom marched in throngs from West and East high schools. Early estimates showed about 4,500 students, or 16 percent of the district’s total enrollment, were absent Thursday, compared with 1,500 students and 5.5 percent on a typical day, said district spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson.

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One bill, SB 533, would place restrictions on a local government’s ability to issue identification cards to people such as immigrants who are in the country illegally. It has passed the Assembly and the Senate and is awaiting action by Gov. Scott Walker.

The other bill, AB 450, would withhold state funding from so-called “sanctuary cities.” These are cities where public employees are prohibited from inquiring about someone’s citizenship status. The bill has passed the Assembly and is awaiting action in the Senate.

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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters Thursday that protesters misunderstood the impact of the sanctuary cities bill.

“The goal of the legislation is to make sure that people who commit crimes are punished,” Vos said. “The basic idea that fear is being instilled is not coming from the Wisconsin Legislature. It’s coming from the activists who want to try to pursue a political agenda.”

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