Following the recent string of arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, the Madison Common Council has released a statement condemning their activity. This statement condemned the arrests as “racist and xenophobic,” and described the ordeal as “terrifying.” The Madison Common Council released the statement jointly with Mayor Paul Soglin’s office. The statement was written on official letterhead and appears to represent the opinion of all council members.
But this is not the case. Alderman Paul Skidmore, District 9, has spoken out about the process with which the statement was drafted and released. Skidmore said he agrees with some parts of the statement but not all of it. He said, “my outrage on this is that this gives the impression all of Council agrees with [the statement], and I don’t.” He has also questioned whether the council violated Wisconsin open meeting laws.
An email was sent at 1:44 p.m. Wednesday by Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff to Council members informing them that she had written a statement with Soglin and Katie Crawley, deputy mayor for public works and communication. She asked any Council member in objection to contact her by 2:15 p.m., saying “we are assuming all of you are OK with the attached press release coming from Mayor and Common Council.” Skidmore spoke to Crawley and requested his name be removed from the statement before the deadline in Bidar-Sielaff’s email.
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Even Council President Samba Baldeh seemed concerned about the protocol, as he was not given notice a statement was even being prepared. Bidar-Sielaff defended her actions by claiming she felt the entire Council cared about the ICE arrests and would be in agreement with the statement.
By making such rash generalizations about the opinions of her colleagues and by ignoring general protocol, Bidar-Sielaff’s actions caused the Common Council and the Mayor’s Office to undermine their duty to represent all of their constituents.
Furthermore, the statement released by the Common Council blatantly ignores the facts surrounding the ICE arrests. In four days, the ICE ERO team arrested 83 illegal immigrants and immigration violators — 20 of the arrests occurred in Dane County. Though a majority of the individuals arrested were from Mexico, arrested individuals were also from other South and Central American countries, as well as Russia, Thailand and Vietnam. Many of these individuals had previous criminal convictions: aggravated felony, sexual assault, domestic abuse and illegal re-entry after deportation, among others. But the reality is all of these individuals are criminals — they violated immigration laws by entering into or remaining in the U.S. illegally.
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According to a statement from the ICE office in Chicago, “all of the targets in this operation were amenable to arrest and removal under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act.” The arrests were not part of a raid, but were rather targeted at certain individuals identified by ICE. Ricardo Wong, field office director for ICE ERO Chicago, said the operation “targeted criminal aliens, public safety threats, and individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws. Operations like this reflect the vital work our ERO officers do every day to protect our communities, uphold public safety and protect the integrity of our immigration laws. We will continue working with our community law enforcement agencies in order to protect citizens and enforce immigration law.”
Why are Madison and Dane County officials protecting people who have committed crimes? Alder Rebecca Kemble, District 18, recently posted on her blog informing individuals ICE was in Madison and searching for people “who have been identified on a list and who possibly face a deportation order, or have criminal record.” She tells the community to “be careful.” Soglin also shared this message during a press conference, September 21.
The aliens arrested by ERO officers were not here legally. The fact the statement exists suggests Madison officials believe the arrests criminalize the immigrant community. What these officials fail to recognize and distinguish are the differences between “legal immigrants” and “illegal immigrants.” Legal immigrants are individuals who entered the country legally — illegal immigrants violated these laws. Protecting criminal aliens is an insult to the individuals in our community who followed the law and are contributing members of society. Legal immigrants put in the time, energy and funds to enter the U.S. through the legal immigration process — they embody the American Dream. By protecting illegal immigrants, the Madison Common Council shows legal immigrants they don’t value the sacrifices made to enter the U.S. legally.
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Now, this is not to say that the legal immigration process does not need reform. Legal immigration should be expedited, made cheaper and easier, and have quotas increased or eliminated, but for these reforms to work, we must first recognize we are a country of laws, which need to be enforced. If we fail to enforce our laws, we fail to protect those who follow the laws.
Andrew Stein ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science and economics.