MADISON, Wis. -- Immigrants and their supporters converged 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.
Many at the rally carried signs that read "Driver's Licenses for All" and called on Republican legislative leaders to reach a compromise with Evers and pass his proposal. The event, part of the annual nationwide May 1 day of action, attracted 4,000 to the Capitol, based on an estimate from Madison police.
If approved, Wisconsin would join 12 other states that currently provide driver's licenses to immigrants living in the country illegally.
"We are standing and marching today with our families, friends, co-workers and people we don't even know to demand driver's licenses for people in Wisconsin and across this country," said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, director of the rally's organizer, Voces de la Frontera.
The immigrants' rights group said tens of thousands of people were on strike Wednesday, and more than 175 Wisconsin businesses closed, as part of the effort to show the economic impact Latinos have both in the state and across the country.
Neumann-Ortiz and others who spoke in support, including the mayor and police chief of Madison, said it was an economic and social justice issue, and about keeping roads safe.
"I want driver's licenses for all!" said Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said on the steps of the Capitol as the thousands listening cheered. "So I hope the Legislature is listening. We want a hearing."
Republican legislative leaders are not supportive.
"Immigrants do indeed make Wisconsin stronger," Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke tweeted in response to an Evers tweet praising the rally. "Illegal immigrants however, are breaking the law and we should not validate that by extending privileges."
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.
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 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.
Numerous groups are behind the idea, including the Dairy Business Association, which Evers said he thinks will help convince resistant Republicans.
Getting Evers to propose in-state tuition and driver's licenses for all immigrants is a partial victory, Neumann-Ortiz said.
"We now have to organize statewide, wider and deeper than ever before," she said.
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