Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Milwaukee to protest the sheriff’s plan to give law enforcement officers the same rights as federal immigration officers, citing deportation concerns.
Between 10,000 and 20,000 protesters turned out for the ‘Day Without Latinos’ march on Monday, walking from the city’s mainly Hispanic south side to the downtown courthouse to rally against Sheriff David Clarke’s plan.
The marchers shouted “Si, podemos!” (Yes we can!) as they walked through the streets, along with “El pueblo unido” (The people united).
Some waved Mexican and American flags, while others displayed banners calling for Clarke’s resignation.
One sign read: “We are a nation of immigrants.” Another stated: “We are workers, not criminals.”
Another man proudly held a sign which said: “Unless you’re Native American, we’re all immigrants!”
Demonstrators are responding to Clarke’s plan to treat local law enforcement as immigration officers in partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), by enrolling in ICE’s 287(g) program, which gives local and state officers the authority to arrest and detain undocumented people.
“President Trump made it clear with his Executive Order on enforcement of our immigration laws,” Clarke wrote on January 27. “No more catch and release of criminal illegal aliens. I will assign as many deputies to this initiative as I can. It is a public safety priority.”
Clarke said in a more recent statement that “there must be a zero tolerance for allowing people to illegally enter this country and establish permanent residency.”
Community members and supporters of the march were encouraged to stay away from work and school, keep their businesses closed, and avoid purchasing anything on Monday.
“Trump wants to paint immigrants as something we should be afraid of; that it is something bad,” Christine Neumann-Ortiz, director of Voces de la Frontera, a Hispanic advocacy group which organized the march, told NBC News.
“When people do this general, wide strike what they show is that on the contrary immigrants are lifting up this economy and when they withhold their contributions we see a decline.”
More than 150 local businesses reportedly closed their doors in support of the rally, according to Neumann-Ortiz.
Wisconsin Sen. Chris Larson tweeted his support for those marching for the cause.
“We wanted to show them that they can look up and realize that they are not alone,” Larson said, as quoted by NBC News. “That there are leaders in their community who are standing up and will stand up with them to make sure they are not alienated and deported without due process.”
Although Clarke is a registered Democrat, his views align with those of conservative Republicans. He is a strong supporter of US President Donald Trump, and was a speaker at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
In addition to Clarke’s plan, activists also marched against Trump’s stand on immigration on Monday.
“There’s a lot of hate in the country now with the new president and we march for that too,” Voces de le Frontera board president Jose Flores told AP.
Trump’s immigration ban aims to block citizens from seven mainly-Muslim countries from entering the country. The ban prompted protests across the globe, with opponents saying it unfairly targets people based on their religion. Trump, however, maintains the ban is about national security, rather than religion.
Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit refused to reinstate the travel ban, which had previously been suspended by a lower judge. The case is likely to be appealed until it reaches the Supreme Court.