- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Thousands of protesters marched around the Wisconsin Capitol and hundreds more packed the rotunda Thursday, chanting and waving signs in protest of state legislation they consider anti-immigrant.

The predominantly Hispanic crowd came from across the state as part of a planned rally called “A Day Without Immigrants and Latinos in Wisconsin” to push back against an Assembly bill they say would legitimize racial profiling and a Senate proposal they say would block counties from issuing local identification cards to non-citizens.

The crowd outside - estimated at 14,000 by Madison police - chanted “yes, we can!” in Spanish and waved signs that read “All We Want is Equality,” ”Stop Racist Laws,” and “Skin Color Is Not Reasonable Suspicion.”

But Republican supporters stood behind the proposals, saying the protesters were being misled.

“It’s unfortunate Democratic activists are using fear and misinformation to drive a wedge,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.

The local ID bill would ban towns and counties from issuing identification to those who don’t have access to a state ID. It would also specify that such documentation couldn’t be used to vote or obtain public benefits. The plan passed the Legislature on Tuesday. Gov. Scott Walker’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email asking whether he would sign the measure.

The sanctuary cities bill passed the Assembly on Tuesday, but it wasn’t clear when the state Senate would take up the legislation or whether it had enough support to pass. The measure says local governments can’t prohibit police from inquiring about immigration status of someone charged with a crime or from working with federal immigration authorities.

Silvia Bello, 41, drove over 100 miles with her family of four from Sheboygan to Madison to protest the measures, taking the day off work on a ranch. Bello said she came to the U.S. 18 years ago from Mexico and that it’s worth missing a day of work to support immigrants and push for drivers’ licenses for immigrants living here illegally.

“Many ranchers came,” Bello said in Spanish. “This is very important for us.”

The Wisconsin Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and other organizations said they hope factories, dairy farms, fast food restaurants and hotels will be affected because workers left their jobs to demonstrate.

Daniel Cortes, a 52-year-old Milwaukee construction worker originally from Mexico, said in Spanish that the bills are anti-immigrant and contribute to fear. He said immigrants contribute to society - they aren’t criminals.

Marshfield Rep. John Spiros, author the sanctuary cities bill, said much of the debate has been based on bad information. For example, he said, his plan doesn’t allow police to stop drivers simply for immigration checks. “The bottom line is what they’re being told is not the truth,” Spiros said.

In the rotunda, where about 1,500 people gathered, according to Capitol Police, 10-year-old Elizabeth Hernandez stood with her parents and two younger brothers. Both of her parents are from Mexico and speak mostly Spanish.

Elizabeth said in English, “we’re here because we don’t want them to take us away.”

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AP Writers Bryna Godar and Todd Richmond contributed to this report.

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Follow Greg Moore at https://twitter.com/writingmoore


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