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Forum Turns to Rally as Thousands Assemble for Immigration Event

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In the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from certain Muslim-majority nations, an estimated 2,000 people packed into the Monona Terrace Convention Center Sunday for the “Know Your Rights – United We Stand” event Sunday.

The event was originally intended as a community forum to help people answer questions about immigration, said event organizer Madison Alder Samba Baldeh. Baldeh said the need for the event became clear shortly after Trump won election in November.

Moderator Masood Akhtar, State Rep. Chris Taylor, Madison Alder Shiva Bidar, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and US Attorney John Vaudreuil discuss local law enforcement resources for immigrants.
Moderator Masood Akhtar, State Rep. Chris Taylor, Madison Alder Shiva Bidar, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and US Attorney John Vaudreuil discuss local law enforcement resources for immigrants.

People started calling me. I’m also an immigrant and a Muslim,” Baldeh said. “They started asking questions. ‘I’m a green card holder. What’s going to happen to me?’ ‘I have a valid visa. What is going to happen to me?’ ‘I’m a naturalized citizen. What is going to happen to me?’ I had answers to some of the questions but did not have answers to everything, so I started to reaching out to some people, my colleagues, who I thought would be able to get the answers. That’s how the idea came about. Let’s bring everybody together and talk about what our rights are and how we can work together in this Donald Trump era.”

Baldeh said organizers originally planned for about 1,000 to attend, but believe attendance was boosted by Trump’s executive order that stranded dozens of people from Muslim-majority nations in airports overnight, sparking protests.

The event included panels on constitutional rights, local law enforcement and community engagement.

Local leaders and law enforcement reassured attendees that local police would not engage in federal immigration enforcement without a legal order.

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said he’d been asked if his deputies would start checking on immigration status and arresting undocumented immigrants.

“The answer is hell no,” he said, drawing a standing ovation.

"We are all united," Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said of his fellow mayors.
“We are all united,” Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said of his fellow mayors.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said the city won’t bow to Trump’s threat to withhold federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities.”

There will be legal action wherever they try to do anything to our cities,” he said. He said many mayors across the country shared that sentiment.

We are all unified. We are going to stay the course together and we are going to fight every step of the way,” he said.

“My answer is, try it,” said Madison Alder Shiva Bidar, defiantly challenging the administration to withhold funding. “If one day you see that we can’t pick up your garbage because we stood for our values, I think that’s worth it.”

Baldeh said organizers would collect the information gathered at the event into a single document and a follow-up forum is already scheduled for February 25 at the Central Library in Madison.

More than 300 people got comfortable on the floor at Sunday's event.
More than 300 people got comfortable on the floor at Sunday’s event.