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Legislature should leave immigrants alone

Thousands of Latinos protest bills before Wisconsin Legislature

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor

February 25, 2016

3 Min Read

Just when you thought the Republican controlled Legislature was through with introducing controversial legislation that riles up and angers large numbers of people in Wisconsin you realize they're at it again.


They introduced Assembly Bill 450/Senate Bill 369 which would lead police to investigate people's immigration status and detain undocumented individuals for deportation, similar to "a show me your papers law" in Arizona. Police would be allowed to ask immigrants to show them their papers even if they are stopped for a traffic violation. They also introduced Senate Bill 533/Assembly Bill 723 which would block city and county governments statewide from issuing local identification cards to people who can't access state IDs.

Many Latinos believe these bills unfairly target them. Th Owners of large dairy farms scrambled on Feb. 18 to get their cows milked and allow as many workers as possible to attend the rally. ey say these bills will prohibit immigrants from reporting crimes and coming forward to testify if they witness a crime.

As a result, some 20,000 Latinos, including thousands who work on dairy farms, dairy farmers, students and business owners, rallied at the state capitol in Madison on Feb. 18 in protest of these bills which many believe is anti-immigrant. The rally was also held to draw attention to the importance of immigrant workers in Wisconsin.

At the peak of the rally, police estimated 20,000 people filled the Capitol and its grounds. There were no arrests, and Madison police called the crowd peaceful and respectful. It was the biggest rally at the Capitol since 2011 when thousands occupied the Capitol and the surrounding area for three weeks opposing limits on collective bargaining.

Owners of large dairy farms scrambled on Feb. 18 to get their cows milked and allow as many workers as possible to attend the rally. Some paid employees overtime wages to milk before and after attending the rally. Others filled in and handled the work with a skeleton crew. Some farmers attended the protest themselves and called Republican legislators to let them know that they were angry and said they opposed any legislation that makes life more difficult for their employees.

According to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study, immigrants account for more than 40% of the hired labor on Wisconsin dairy farms. Without immigrants many large dairy producers say they would be forced to quit milking cows because there aren't enough other people willing to do the work. According to that same study, nearly 90% of Wisconsin's immigrant dairy workers are from Mexico.

Voting along party lines two days before the rally, the Senate and Assembly passed SB533 and sent it to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature. If Walker signs the bill into law, it will curtail identification cards issued by local governments. On the same day, the Assembly approved the bill on asking suspects about their immigration status, but it is unclear if Senate GOP leaders will take it up.

If Republican lawmakers were trying to unite Democrats, Latinos and large dairy farmers in Wisconsin, then introducing these two bills overwhelmingly accomplished that goal. Immigration reform is a complicated issue that needs to be addressed at the national level. 

About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Fran O’Leary lives in Brandon, Wis., and has been editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist since 2003. Even though O’Leary was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Before becoming editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist, O’Leary worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and a feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

She has been a member of American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 2003.

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