Last month Juliana Kerr from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs was in town to discuss immigration. She met with Mayor Soglin who "convened a roundtable with city council members, Hispanic and Somali immigrant community leaders, and several youth" in addition to the Madison Committee on Foreign Relations, a group of "civic, business, and academic leaders" who meet once a month to hear presentations and discuss global issues. Sadly I could find no mention of Kerr's meetings in Madison newspapers. Luckily Ms. Kerr blogged
about her day in Madison.
When most people discuss Wisconsin’s stake in the immigration debate, they think of the migrant workers in the dairy industry. And with reason: forty percent of Wisconsin’s dairy farm workers are immigrants, and yet, the current U.S. immigration system doesn’t offer a low-skilled year-round visa to legally employ them long-term. Add to this the fact that some policymakers want to focus on enforcement-only bills first—including mandatory e-verify—and the entire dairy industry could be threatened.
What may be more surprising, however, is that the lack of immigration reform is also affecting Wisconsin’s urban areas, not just rural ones. During my recent visit to Madison, Mayor Paul Soglin convened a roundtable with city council members, Hispanic and Somali immigrant community leaders, and several youth. They immediately asked when the DREAMers (young unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children) would be able to go to college and pay in-state tuition. Or have the right to apply for citizenship. Or stop fearing deportation at every turn. One boy pleaded to learn more about rumored tracking devices being placed on the ankles of unauthorized immigrants facing deportation. Brought to the United States as young children, they know of no other home than Wisconsin. Why are they being punished? Do we not want them to be educated and successful members of our society?, they asked.
The Mayor is compassionate for their situation and mindful of the changing demographics of his city, noting that while Madison’s overall population has grown from 170,000 in 1980 to 233,000 in 2010, the minority population grew by over 57 percent from 2000-2010 alone. In 2010, minorities made up 18 percent of the total population compared to 13 percent in 2000. The Hispanic population almost doubled from 13,400 to 26,400 during the same period.
But he is also at a loss of what he can do from his office in the absence of federal immigration reform. Even offering driver’s licenses or in-state tuition for unauthorized immigrants are decisions that can be made at the state level, but not municipal. (Ironically, I had also reached out to the governor’s office for a meeting with any willing body but was told that since immigration is a federal issue, no one in the office dealt with it.) The Mayor does what he can, such as supporting grants that go to social service organizations for immigrant communities and welcomes guidance from other cities that are developing creative immigrant integration policies while waiting for Congress to act.
I found this very interesting as, although I was familiar with the large number of immigrants working on dairy farms here in Wisconsin, I really didn't know much about how our immigration laws affect the ever-growing number of minorities here in Madison. While Madison is not a large metropolis by any means, what people think of as "urban" problems are no longer relegated to Milwaukee alone anymore.
In addition to being unable to find any example of Madison's newspapers reporting on Kerr's visit, it is also disappointing that Mayor Soglin didn't mention it on either his personal blog or his mayoral one. What the mayor says and does is news simply by virtue of his office. Madison mayors, like all politicos, are happy to point out their attendance at ribbon cuttings and to announce the formation of committees to study problems but they rarely maintain a vocal presence to keep issues of importance in the public eye. Soglin should be blogging, holding press conferences, etc. much more often to keep important topics on the front burner. Instead of waiting for Congress to act, he could publicize his meeting with Kerr and community members to start the process of taking immigration off the back burner. Perhaps he can do something with Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett to further publicize the issue. Simply by being mayor every word Soglin utters and every word he types is de facto newsworthy. He has the power to begin and foster civic conversations yet he seem fairly reluctant to do so, which is a shame.
Labels: Immigration, Madison, Politics