Wisconsin Republicans have introduced anti-immigrant legislation similar to the bill signed into law in Texas earlier this spring.
Immigrant rights advocates in the state pledge to respond with protests, just as activists did in Texas. A lobby day at the Capitol is planned for June 28 and discussion is taking place about a possible statewide general strike.
Wisconsin Assembly Bill 190 — and the companion Senate Bill 275 — aim to punish so-called sanctuary cities, counties and school districts, and to encourage police, clerks and teachers to ask people for their immigration status.
The sponsors are state Rep. John Spiros and Sens. Stephen L. Nass and Leah Vukmir — all Republicans.
According to Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, the measures would have public employees act like federal immigration agents.
“It’s essential that these bills are defeated,” she said.
Voces is Wisconsin’s leading immigrant rights group and the largest Latinx member organization in the state.
The bills are like legislation defeated in Wisconsin last year. They resemble model legislation circulated by the pro-business, right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. The bills have been introduced in 29 states, including the anti-immigrant “show me your papers” law signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Neumann-Ortiz said, “We stand in solidarity with the people in Texas who are fighting this bill.”
And, she added, “we’ve got to make sure this does not spread into Wisconsin.”
Texas immigration law is the nation’s harshest
Texas’ SB 4 authorizes law enforcement and others in public service to ask people about their immigration status, and it requires law enforcement to comply with federal requests to detain people for deportation.
“I, as a lifelong Texan, had never dreamed that our state would turn in the direction it has,” said Texas state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth.
The law isn’t set to take effect until Sept. 1, but immigrant rights advocates and Texas Democrats say it already has had a chilling effect. Undocumented immigrants are afraid to go to the police to report crimes. And people without legal papers are leaving the state.
“This law is not going to make us more safe,” said Texas state Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas.
SB 4 has generated widespread protest in Texas and triggered at least one federal lawsuit, filed June 5 by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas on behalf of Texas LULAC, the city of El Cenizo and its mayor, and Maverick County and its elected officials.
The ACLU says the law strips localities and local law enforcement of the authority to determine how best to use limited resources, and turns Texas into a “show me your papers” state.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Antonio, Texas, alleges SB 4 violates numerous constitutional rights and principles and seeks a fast-track ruling.
“Gov. Abbott and his allies in the Legislature enacted the harshest ant-immigration law in the country, ignoring the concerned voices of many Texans who stood in solidarity with our immigrant communities,” said ACLU of Texas senior staff attorney Edgar Saldivar.
“Not only will SB 4 lead to wholesale racial profiling, it is so vaguely written that local officials and law enforcement agencies are essentially left to guess whether their policies and practices would violate the law,” Saldivar said.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, added, “Under SB 4, local authorities will be unable to serve their constituents. Local officials won’t be able to keep Texans safe and will be forced to carry out harsh discriminatory policies that hurt their communities.”
Just before the ACLU sued, on the final day of session for the Texas Legislature, opposition to SB 4 brought a thousand protestors to the capitol.
The demonstrators’ shouts drowned out lawmakers, leading House leadership to halt proceedings and order state troopers to remove people from the public gallery.
On the House floor, tension escalated and, at one point, a Republican backer of SB 4 — state Rep. Matthew Rinaldi — threatened to “put a bullet in the head” of Democratic Rep. Poncho Nevarez, who represents the border town of Eagle Pass.
“Matt Rinaldi came a long way … from the front to the back (of the chamber) and what I saw was clear. … He had one intention and it was … absolutely to create a fight,” said Rep. Romero.
Milwaukee-based Voces de la Frontera is organizing a “No Hate in our State Lobby Day” at the Capitol to challenge AB 190/SB 275, anti-immigrant bills similar to the “show me your papers” law in Texas. Voces is coordinating bus travel from across the state. For details, call 414-469-9206 or go online to vdlf.org/nohate.