Immigrants and Latino activists from all over Wisconsin were rallying Thursday to protest proposed state laws that they say will lead to discriminatory targeting from law enforcement. They packed buses from 12 cities and made their way to the state capital, Madison, to send a poignant pro-immigrant message: Wisconsin is not Arizona.
Under one of the bills, which has been proposed in the state assembly, activists say police would be made to investigate the immigration status of individuals and then detain undocumented immigrants to be deported even in so-called "sanctuary cities." A separate bill proposed in the state Senate would stop counties from issuing formal identification cards to people who can’t get state IDs or driver’s licenses, according to Madison NBC affiliate WMTV.
— Katelyn Ferral (@katelynferral) February 18, 2016
The “Wisconsin is not Arizona” signs that protesters held during the rallies weren’t only referring to the snow that lay on the ground Thursday in Madison. Instead, they were noting the high-profile and controversial Arizona state bills in recent years that critics said codified police racial discrimination. Those laws sparked national outrage that has generally been seen as a black eye for the state, which borders Mexico to the south.
— Jessica Arp (@news3jessica) February 18, 2016
The protests hoped to demonstrate how valuable and integral the immigrant and Latino communities are to Wisconsin, where many local businesses were expected to be closed because of the labor shortfalls from protesters taking off from work. Hispanics make up 6.5 percent of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census statistics, well below the national average of 17.4 percent.
Immigration reform has been a major political issue in the past year. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his primary opponents have been particularly vocal on the issue decrying “sanctuary cities,” calling on a southern border wall between the U.S and Mexico and questioning whether or not children born in the United States to undocumented immigrant parents should be given citizenship.