Wisconsin anti-immigrant bills protested

By CARL SACK

— MADISON, Wis. — More than 20,000 Latin@s took off work and marched on the Wisconsin State Capitol on Feb. 18 to demand the state legislature drop a pair of bills designed to make life harder for undocumented workers.

Immigrant rights groups who planned the protest on short notice dubbed it Un Día Sin Latinos (A Day Without Latinos), and called on all Latin@s and immigrants workers to skip work and come to Madison. “Hundreds of workplaces including dairies, farms, factories, cleaning companies, printers, hotels, fast food and restaurants, and… dozens of schools statewide” were affected by the work stoppage, according to Voces de la Frontera, the state’s largest immigrant rights group and lead protest organizer, based in Milwaukee.

News media reported that many businesses around the state shut down for the day. Hundreds of Madison high school students, many Black or Latin@ themselves, walked out in solidarity with Latin@ protesters. High school students here have mobilized several times since unarmed black teenager Tony Robinson was shot and killed by a white Madison cop a year ago.

Latin@s account for 40% of Wisconsin’s dairy farm workers. The protest received widespread support from dairy farmers and small business owners. A number of dairy farmers even donated money to charter buses to Madison for the protest. As workers themselves, many farmers undoubtedly sympathize on a personal level with their Latin@ employees. But farms and other businesses would also lose out on underpaid and heavily exploited labor if undocumented workers were to stop coming to the state.

The protest was aimed at defeating two bills currently making their way through the state legislature. One bill would prohibit local communities from issuing their own ID cards to undocumented immigrants, who are legally barred from obtaining drivers licenses in the state. Milwaukee officials are planning to begin issuing such IDs this year, allowing undocumented workers to open bank accounts, file court papers, and receive local services that require a photo ID. The IDs will not be usable for voting, driving, or obtaining safety net benefits like food stamps, even though undocumented workers contribute income taxes that pay for these benefits.

The other bill prohibits so-called “sanctuary city” laws that prevent cops from asking someone about their immigration status and reporting undocumented workers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Three cities in the state currently have some form of these protections on the books, although city officials in all three have disavowed the “sanctuary city” title, and local law enforcement agencies still cooperate with ICE in criminal cases. The bill could increase racial profiling and prevent immigrants from reporting wage theft or personal crimes, making it easier to exploit and victimize the undocumented.

One of the major slogans of the march was “Wisconsin is Not Arizona,” referring to that state’s notorious SB 1070 or “show me your papers” law. That law made being an undocumented immigrant a crime and requires cops to determine the status of Latin@s they detain. Though some of its provisions were struck down by the Supreme Court, the most egregious part—allowing cops to report the undocumented—was upheld. It has led to rampant racial profiling, increased deportations, and fear in immigrant communities.

The ID bill has passed both houses of the Wisconsin legislature and has yet to be signed by the governor. The sanctuary cities bill passed the State Assembly but has not been taken up by the Senate. After the protest, Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald and Gov. Scott Walker both said the anti-sanctuary cities bill was unlikely to pass. Voces de la Frontera is attempting to build on the momentum of the protest by organizing local chapters around the state.

Photo: Carl Sack / Socialist Action