An estimated 14,000 activists gathered in Madison to take part in “A Day Without Latinos and Immigrants in Wisconsin” to protest two legislations they argue are racist and discriminatory against immigrants.
One these legislations, Assembly Bill 450, would permit police and government agencies to investigate a person’s immigration status if they are charged or involved with certain crimes. They would also be allowed to detain these individuals for up to two days without bail during the investigation.
The second legislation, Senate Bill 553, would ban local governments from issuing local photo ID cards, making it difficult for immigrants to vote, get a job or simply ride the bus.
“Quite frankly, I think it’s messed up to discriminate against people who are walking down the street because of how they look,” Ryan Petro, senior business administration major, said. “I think Wisconsin police have better things to do than investigate someone based on their skin color. I really don’t think it will pass.”
AB 450 has passed the Assembly and is now being considered by the upper chamber, while SB 553 has been approved by both and is currently sitting on the desk of Gov. Scott Walker where it may be signed into law or vetoed.
Brigitte Benitez-Vargas, sophmore international management and Spanish major, is the president of the Latino Student Alliance and was one of the driving forces behind the group’s attendance at the Feb. 18 protest.
“Any issue that affects a lot of people is important for students to get familiarized with,” Benitez-Vargas said. “For me personally, I’m an immigrant from Mexico. I was an illegal immigrant up until the age of 18. My aunts, uncles, mom and dad are all from Mexico. They say these bills are just trying to stop criminals, but nobody that I know is a criminal.”
During the protest, Latinos and immigrants from across the state closed businesses, left jobs and walked out of class to display their economic power.
“Immigrants don’t have the opportunity to go and voice their opinions. We are only here for the economic benefits. There are a lot of laborers and people who are working and getting taxed, but they rarely get any money back or they’re paid below minimum wage. We’re helping Wisconsin economically, but we’re not getting our voices heard or anything back in return,” Benitez-Vargas said.
As an immigrant, Bentitez-Vargas was only granted a student visa, so it is currently impossible for her to gain citizenship and vote on her beliefs.
Solimar Garcia, senior forest ecosystem restoration and management major, is member of the Latino Student Alliance on campus and also took part in the protest.
“People here who pay taxes and contribute to society would be discriminated against because of how they look. The police would have the right to do that unfortunately,” Garcia said in reference to AB 450. “That bit of legislature would allow policemen to act somewhat like immigration.”
AB 450 is being called the “sanctuary cities bill.” This name implies it will ban cities that follow certain procedures in order to protect undocumented immigrants.
“Another thing we’re fighting against is racial discrimination. Policemen can just pull you over for looking like an immigrant,” Garcia said.
Legislators say that the bill is being misconstrued and it is not an anti-immigration action designed to split up families, but rather protect the general public.
“I’m Mexican and Puerto Rican and first generation on one side. I definitely needed to take part in this and stand up for my dad,” Garcia said.
The Latino Student Alliance walked approximately 10 miles around the Wisconsin capital, sporting purple and yellow protest signs exclaiming mantras such as “Together we stand as one.”
“I think this is important because we are a community, we are a community of students. If it affects someone else near to you then you should care,” Benitez-Vargas said. “So if you have a voice, go out, vote and voice your opinion.”