MILWAUKEE (AP) — A sea of demonstrators on Monday marched from Milwaukee's predominantly Hispanic south side to the downtown courthouse to protest a plan that would deputize local law enforcement officers as federal immigration agents.
Busloads of demonstrators from about a dozen communities around Wisconsin arrived to join local protesters in the mile-long march. Parents with children in strollers, young men hoisting Mexican and American flags, and older supporters mingled as the crowd, estimated at 10,000 to 20,000 by police, moved through the streets chanting "Si, podemos!" or "Yes we can!"
Jose Flores, board president at Voces de le Frontera, one of the groups organizing the march, said he is fearful of the plan by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke to enroll his deputies in a federal program that allows them to perform immigration law enforcement functions.
"Many peoples got to be afraid, you know. Like many families in this county, there's a lot of hard workers. They are not criminals. We are not criminals," Flores said.
Activists also marched against President Donald Trump's stand on immigration and his executive order that targets just about any immigrant living in the country illegally for deportation.
"There's a lot of hate in the country now with the new president and we march for that too," Flores said.
Organizers invited Latinos and others around the state to close their businesses, take their children out of school and march to stop Clarke from turning deputies into immigration agents.
In a statement, Clarke said the United States has an interest in controlling its borders, including for national and domestic security reasons, to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and to "control the number of another failed nation's refugees which would overwhelm America's limited public services."
"There must be a zero tolerance for allowing people to illegally enter this country and establish permanent residency," the sheriff said.
Milwaukee police officers blocked intersections to allow the massive crowd to move freely to the downtown courthouse.
"This country's greatest strength is its immigrants, said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele who surveyed the crowd from the courthouse terrace. "It's easy to forget what makes us strong."
Abele said immigration was not a Republican or a Democratic issue.
"This is an American issue, a citizens' issue," he said. Abele asked where the City of Milwaukee would be without the German immigrants who came in droves during the 1800s.
Maria Jasso, 31, said she brought her three children, ages 6, 8 and 9, to the march to learn an important lesson about immigration.
"We want the president to not do what he wants to do," Jasso said, speaking about the separation of families when a deportation occurs.
The organizers also included the Coalition for an Inclusive Wisconsin and Muslim community organizations.