Thousands carrying signs that said “Stop Ripping Families Apart” and “Education not Deportation” paraded Sunday from Milwaukee’s south side through downtown and on to Veterans Park at the lakefront for the annual May Day march for immigrant rights.
This year’s turnout for the march, which has taken place since 2006 to push for reform of the nation’s immigration laws, was smaller than in previous years, when they have been among the largest in the country.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, the immigrant and low-wage worker group that organizes the marches, said although the turnout was not as strong as in other years, it was still large and “that shows the consciousness and sends a message on the issues we’re fighting for.”
In previous years, there also have been issues that present “an imminent threat” to the Latino community, such as the proposed legislation last year by state Rep. Don Pridemore (R-Hartford) that would have introduced an Arizona-like immigration bill, she said. That bill, however, never got traction.
This year, the focus of the May Day marches here and throughout the country centers on the U.S. Supreme’s Court’s consideration of Arizona SB 1070, the law that allows police to inquire about a person’s immigration status if they have a “reasonable suspicion” to believe a person might be in the country illegally.
The law also has been challenged because the federal government maintains that immigration laws rest with the federal government, not with states.
“We want to send a clear message to the Supreme Court and to politicians who represent the wealthy that we are united in rejecting racism and prejudice,” Neumann-Ortiz told the crowd.
“We are fighting for immigrant rights, the right to unionize, fighting the attack on our civil rights, voter rights and fighting those who would destroy education, the environment and health care,” she said. “We march for all people everywhere whose rights are under attack.”
Religious leaders from all faiths, along with union leaders, turned out for the march and rally. There was a huge puppet of the face of Republican Gov. Scott Walker that marched through the parade, and some people wore “Recall Walker” buttons.
Bruce Colburn of the state AFL-CIO told the crowd: “We are one, whether we are fighting Arizona’s anti-immigrant law or Wisconsin’s union-busting law. We are one family.”
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of the most outspoken proponents of immigration reform in Congress, told the marchers that the push for immigration reform must continue.
“The president made a promise (about immigration reform), and he’s not kept it,” he said.
The effort to improve the nation’s broken immigration system has to continue, regardless of who becomes president, he said.
“We have to lift our voices, regardless of party, and speak for the immigrants who live here. And we won’t stop until they and all have good health care, good education and good jobs.”
He added: “I love to turn on the TV in Chicago or Washington and see the fighting men and women of Wisconsin.”
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) told the crowd she continues to work for passage of the DREAM Act, a bill that would allow those who were brought here as children by their parents and who graduate from state high schools to pay in-state tuition in college.
Many students, some of who said they were undocumented, took part in the march and were accompanied by drumming, music and chants of “Si, se puede (yes, we can)” and “Immigrants are not criminals.”
Rene Kissell, 21, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, came with seven others from Madison for the Milwaukee march.
“I’m the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and I’m proud to support the students working for the DREAM Act,” she said, as she ate a plate of carnitas, rice and beans in the park.