MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Immigrants and their supporters were converging Wednesday on the Wisconsin Capitol to rally for Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal that would make driver’s licenses available to people who are living in the country illegally.
The event, part of the annual nationwide May 1 day of action, was expected to attract thousands to the Capitol where they were to lobby lawmakers and advocate for passage of the Evers proposal. Buses were leaving from 17 cities across the state for the event.
Rally organizer Voces de la Frontera said tens of thousands of people are on strike, and more than 175 Wisconsin businesses are closing, as part of the effort to show the economic impact Latinos have both in the state and across the country.
The focus in Wisconsin will be on Evers’ driver’s license proposal.
Immigrants without proper documentation could receive driver’s licenses in Wisconsin until 2007. That’s when the Legislature changed the law to require residents to prove they were in the United States legally.
Evers said Tuesday his proposal to make the licenses available is common sense, but he also expects Republicans who control the Legislature to block it. The proposal is part of Evers’ two-year budget, but he said he thinks it will be one of the first items removed by Republicans.
“They want to make sure they have a chance to get to work, they want to make sure they’re not ending up being deported because they’re driving illegally,” Evers said Tuesday at a Milwaukee Press Club event. Evers ran in support of making the driver’s licenses available as well as allowing immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to pay in-state tuition.
Republicans oppose the in-state tuition plan, which is also in Evers’ budget, a version of which they stripped from state law in 2011.
If the driver’s license proposal is removed from the budget, Evers said it will be introduced as a separate bill. As envisioned by Evers, the IDs given to people here illegally could not be used for voting.
Supporters say immigrants without driver’s licenses are already driving to get to work, so making licenses available to them would make the roads safer by requiring them to take classes and learn rules of the road. It would also remove their fear of being deported if pulled over.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, police chief Mike Koval, the co-owner of Drake Dairy and the head of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association were among those slated to speak. Rhodes-Conway, who took office last month, posted a video in support of the rally and the driver’s license proposal. Koval has also advocated for the driver’s licenses.
Numerous other groups are behind the idea, including the Dairy Business Association, which Evers said he thinks will help convince resistant Republicans.