Thousands of people filled the streets Thursday for what was billed as “A Day without Latinos” to protest efforts in Congress to target undocumented workers.
Police estimated that more than 10,000 people joined the demonstrations and march to downtown Milwaukee. Organizers put the number at 30,000.
“We came to work, not to be discriminated against,” said Juan Hernandez, who said his boss gave him and more than a dozen other restaurant workers permission to join the protest. “We want to be equal.”
About 90 Latino-owned businesses on the south side were closed for all or part of the day in support, according to Voces de la Frontera, the rally’s organizer. About a dozen businesses in Racine and Kenosha also closed as several hundred people protested in downtown Racine.
The protesters oppose a bill that passed the U.S. House in December that would make it a felony to be illegally in the United States. The bill also would impose new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and would erect fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border.
The title of the demonstration is borrowed from the 2004 mockumentary “A Day Without a Mexican,” which considers what would happen to California if all Latinos there suddenly disappeared.
The protest concept also borrows from “Day of Absence,” a celebrated 1965 play by the black playwright Douglas Turner Ward, in which all black people mysteriously vanish from a Southern town, leaving work to be done by others.
‘We are not criminals’
Wearing shirts that proclaimed “We are not criminals” and waving American, Mexican and other flags, thousands of people young and old listened to speakers from the business and religious communities and political activists.
Raul Alcantara was among nearly 100 staffers and teachers who skipped work at the Milwaukee Technical College to attend the rally.
“We fully disagree because this country is built on immigrants,” said Alcantara, a math teacher originally from Mexico. “We will fight together.”
They also rallied against the prospect of illegal immigrants losing their driving privileges in the next few years. A new federal law requires states to verify whether drivers license applicants are American citizens or legal residents by 2008.
“We never close our eyes to any injustice against any human being,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, president of Voces de la frontera, the rally’s organizer.