Over ten thousand people from Milwaukee and across Wisconsin marched in Waukesha on May 1 as part of A Day Without Latinxs & Immigrants, a statewide general strike and protest.

Marchers demanded that Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson not turn his deputies into ICE agents through the 287g program. Across the United States, dozens of cities held marches to protest the Trump Administration’s unlawful crackdown on immigrant communities.

“The 287g program is part of Trump’s white nationalist plan to divide working people and implement a cruel mass deportation program targeting people of color, immigrants and refugees,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera. “Sheriff Severson’s contract with ICE makes it clear that all immigrants will be targets for deportation.”

Over 100 Wisconsin businesses closed during the time of the Waukesha march. Thousands of students affiliated with Voces’ student arm, Youth Empowered in the Struggle, left class at dozens of schools in Waukesha, Milwaukee, and Racine.

Marchers rallied at Cutler Park in Waukesha before marching to the Waukesha County Courthouse, where speakers addressed the crowd. Elected officials and candidates including Randy Bryce joined the march. Protesters carried an enormous 100 yard banner visible from the air that read “They Tried to Bury Us, They Didn’t Know We Were Seeds.”

“I was a teacher at Waukesha North High School for 38 years,” said Diane Voit, representative at-large to the Waukesha Board of Education. “Students do not need the fear and anxiety that our current immigration policies add. That is not the learning environment in which you can become the best that you can be. They deserve better from our community – they deserve to feel safe. We urge Sheriff Severson, as a parent, to consider the fear of the children who don’t want to be separated from their parents. We urge him not to implement 287g. My grandparents came to America as immigrants for a better life, as did so many of your parents and grandparents. I firmly believe that immigrants make America great.”

Sheriff Severson signed the 287g agreement with ICE in February of this year. On April 25, Severson announced that his deputies will receive 287g ICE training from June 13 through July 18, 2018. The Trump Administration has massively expanded the number of local sheriff’s and police departments with 287g agreements nationwide from 29 in 2016 to 76 today, as part of an unprecedented effort to turn local law enforcement into an arm of “Trump’s campaign of terror against immigrant families.”

“The United States was founded on the principle of ‘all men’ being created equal, and the idea that we all are entitled to a chance to pursue ‘life, liberty, and a pursuit of happiness,'” said Imam Noman Hussein of the Masjid Al-Noor, Islamic Society of Milwaukee West in Brookfield in Waukesha County. “That is all we are here to do. While the president talks about building walls, immigrants are building this country. Immigrants help grow the economy, and add to its diversity and its prosperity with our hard work, sweat, and tears. We are a valuable asset. We are woven into the fabric of this nation, its everyday life, and our absence is felt at all levels if we are not present.”

Imam Hussein led an interfaith circle in a closing prayer following the rally that included Pastor Teresa Rios of Casa de Restauracion Church in New Berlin in Waukesha County, Pastor Benny Khabeb of Ascension Lutheran Church in the city of Waukesha and the SOPHIA interfaith network, and Reverend Ralph Schultz of the First United Congregational Church in Waukesha.

“We have a broken immigration system that needs to be fixed,” said Anselmo Villarreal, President and CEO of La Casa de Esperanza. “It needs to be fixed through comprehensive immigration reform initiatives like 287g not only distract us from achieving our goal, but also hurt and confuse our communities. I encourage Sheriff Severson to do the right thing and not implement the 287g program.”

Since 2016, statewide “Day without Latinxs & Immigrants” strike actions organized by Voces de la Frontera in Wisconsin have defeated 287g in Milwaukee County and stopped proposed anti-sanctuary bills in the state legislature.

“As an educator in Waukesha, I feel the need march on May 1st with my students, their families, and the community, to speak out Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson’s efforts to turn his deputies into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) agents,” said Gerardo Lemus, a teacher at Butler Middle School in Waukesha. “If Sheriff Severson follows through on his plans for 287g, many families in Waukesha will face trauma. How could my students ever focus on school when their families are under attack?”

Voces de la Frontera is a membership-based community organization led by low-wage workers, immigrants and students, whose mission is to protect and expand civil rights and workers’ rights through leadership development.

© Photo

Susan Ruggles, Joe Brusky, and Nick Hansen