MADISON (WKOW) — Madison was one of 700 cities across the country hosting a rally to demand immigration reform in light of the Trump administration’s controversial zero tolerance policy.
Hundreds gathered at the state Capitol Saturday, more than 1,500 miles from the border, raising signs and chants calling for an end to the policy they blame for separating and imprisoning immigrant families crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.
Speakers included Rep. Mark Pocan, who described his recent trip to the border and one of the facilities he says was holding children.
"I visited a former Super Walmart that is now a Trump super detention center," he said. "Where it used to hold 500 ten to 15-year-old boys, in weeks it went to 1500 children in a Walmart."
He said President Donald Trump’s more recent executive order, which ended the policy of separating families detained at the border, wasn’t enough. Rep. Pocan brought up a bill he’s introducing to Congress to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which he said was only recently formed and has moved far beyond its original purpose.
The Homeland Security Act of 2002, passed after 9/11, established the organization to enforce federal laws and protect national security.
Other speakers included representatives from Voces de la Frontera and Centro Hispano, who shared stories of immigrants in Wisconsin who have been incarcerated and separated from their families. Karen Menendez Coller described a Waukesha man, still waiting to be reunited with family detained at the border.
"Our children should not have to hurt so bad every day," she said.
Those at the rally demanded families be reunited and the government open a clearer path for those fleeing to the United States looking for asylum. They said they don’t belong in jail.
According to an order from a Federal Judge the Trump administration must reunite any parents separated from their children within 30 days. Sooner, for children under the age of five.
Sadat Abiri, who spoke at a multi-faith rally before heading to the Capitol said what this country needs is a culture change when it comes to how we see and treat immigrants."We are not here to take people’s jobs," she said.
Coming to this country on a student visa from Nigeria, Abiri said her situation is very different from what’s going on at the U.S.-Mexico border, but she said she does understand what it means to be separated from her family.
"I was torn between, if I leave here, to see my parents, my children will be here, I may not be able to come back," she said.
When she graduated, Abiri said she struggled to gain legal status and lost her student visa.
"I was able to go back 13 years after seeing my dad, shortly before he passed away," she said.
Now a citizen, Abiri wants to see the immigration process get easier. Especially when it comes to keeping families together.
"That’s not what this country is and that’s not what Madison is," she said.
She sees rallies like Saturday’s as a good start.
" It was powerful and it tells me, in spite of what’s going on in this country there are so many good people in this country and that’s what makes this place, such a beautiful place," she said.
The Trump administration has said it will reunite the families, but there’s no clear plan to do that yet. A federal judge has ordered it to happen within 30 days, sooner for children under the age of five.
Saturday, President Trump tweeted about immigration again, saying, "When people come into our country illegally, we must immediately escort them back out without going through years of legal maneuvering. Our laws are the dumbest anywhere in the world. Republicans want strong borders and no crime. Dems want open borders and are weak on crime!"