A Change of Heart

Things are continuing to move in the right direction on local efforts to reverse Sheriff Mahoney’s policy of ICE notification.  Recently, the Task Force designated to study the issue voted to recommend that the policy be stopped, while the Common Council passed a similar measure sponsored by Ald. Shiva.  What’s more, the local media has also taken to criticizing the Sheriff’s policy in a surprisingly bold manner.  Slowly but surely, Mahoney is becoming more isolated as a result of his unjust treatment of local immigrants.

Of course, what’s interesting to note is that this campaign has been going now for the better part of two years.  As fellow SPDer Samir Jaber recently noted to me, “Where were all of these people way back in 2008?”  At that time, even self-identified progressives like Supervisor Carousel Bayrd argued against taking action against the Sheriff.  The first vote taken on the issue – a measure introduced by Supervisor Matano in Nov 2008 to cut the Sheriff’s budget due to his discriminatory policies – overwhelmingly failed, only the PD caucus supporting it.  What’s even more remarkable are the number of people who have reversed their position, originally supporting the Sheriff’s policy and, now, with the recent change in the political wind, are arguing for an end to the deportations.  Perhaps the most relevant example of this complete turn-around for students comes from the Badger Herald Editorial Board, who recently published a mostly solid piece on the subject.  They argue:

Mahoney’s policy renders MPD’s outreach to the Latino community less effective, jeopardizing a fragile relationship with a population already confronting the daunting cultural barriers. Thus the council has every right to rebuff his policy as not only harmful, but patently unnecessary…

…If Mahoney wishes to continue helping ICE deport his constituents, he owes them more than a perverse variant of the Nuremberg Defense.

Even more amazing, however, was this sentence in the last paragraph:

If only Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, District 5, the resolution’s sponsor, had done [this] sooner.

Sooner?  Let’s see what the Editorial Board and its writers were arguing about the policy at a “sooner” date, namely back in 2008 when the campaign against the Sheriff first began.

The Editorial Board (“Don’t Shoot the Sheriff” – March 2008):

While some citizens have claimed this policy will lead to racial profiling, widespread raids and an overzealous police force, we believe this policy is a reasonable adjudication of law and order.

Those who have entered the country illegally and then committed additional crimes certainly have no right to remain here…Deportation is a reasonable course of action.

Law enforcement’s duty is to obey the existing laws, and for that reason we support the sheriff’s actions.

Sam Clegg (“Keep on Turning in Illegal Immigrants” – February 2008)

(Unfortunately, the link is down for this one, which is really too bad because apparently Sam is still on the Ed Board.  In it, he argues that law enforcement has a constitutional obligation to rid this city of its illegal “criminal element.”)

Joey Labuz (“Progressive Dane’s Good Intentions Have Poor Execution” – December 2008)

(Also down.  But you get the idea)

It’s great to see the way this issue has truly captured the hearts and minds of the Madison political community.  I’ve now talked with with more than one political newcomer to this town who has identified the issue of immigrant rights as the most prominent social justice issue on the local scene.

One the one hand, it’s easy to get a little frustrated at those who appear to be opportunistic, but the truth is that the continuing development of the local immigrant rights movement is simply exemplary of successful activism.  The job of activists is to push the center to the left – making it convenient and even fashionable for people like Mark Clear (who would have never voted for Shiva’s resolution 2 years ago) to identify the bulk of Mahoney’s support on this issue as being motivated by racism; or Jason Smathers to express his support for Shiva’s resolution (at least on Facebook) even after opposing it for years. 

Regardless, good for both of them to have the courage to stand up for what’s right in the here and now – which is, of course, much more important than the there and then.

At this point, I see the reversal of Mahoney’s policy as almost inevitable, and this is entirely due to the efforts of immigrant and pro-immigrant activists.  The next step is to return to the County Board and pass something with some actual teeth on it, a fight I anticipate taking off this next fall with the new semester.


About introspectivejourney

A UW-Madison student, activist and writer. Hopelessly idealistic, tirelessly introspective, socially inept, slightly insane.
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