Sleeping giant arise! Latinos, vote on Tuesday, February 19!

Not content to take away immigrant working class families’ right to a driver’s license and ID, the political attacks on immigrants – documented and undocumented – continue. Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen, is using his elected position to play cheap politics by scapegoating immigrants in ways that undermine public safety and are fiscally irresponsible.

On February 4, 2008, Van Hollen presented guidelines for local law enforcement when interacting with foreign nationals. Van Hollen said he is looking into how the State of Wisconsin can support a 287G program for state and local law enforcement to play an immigration enforcement role.
His guidelines send a contradictory message – on the one hand he acknowledges that undocumented status is a civil crime and persons are not required to respond to questions about their status from local and state law enforcement — yet encourages law enforcement to question people about their status and then refer them to ICE – even when no serious crime has been committed.

His words must be hypocritical to his own ears when he says: “of course this must all be done in a way that does not lead to racial profiling and respects people’s constitutional rights.”

The politics of xenophobia – hatred against immigrants – and though they don’t like to admit it – hatred against people of color – is part of a political drum that is being beaten by certain politicians in an election year when they have nothing else to offer Wisconsin’s families.
Policies of enforcement – without seeking to pressure the federal government to pass comprehensive immigration reform – will only undermine community trust between local law enforcement and immigrants who are too fearful to come forward as victims or witnesses to crime, increase racial discrimination as to who will be questioned about their status, and lead to increased abuses of civil rights which are currently widespread in the nation’s detention system.

Cheap politics – like the war in Iraq – is about flying in the face of reality. And money is not an issue. Why does Van Hollen offer such a solution when the State of Wisconsin is $400 million in debt? Why when major federal budget cuts have resulted in the Department of Justice facing a severe budget shortfall? Why when cops on the street, especially in urban areas, have no manpower, no budgets, to even do their job responding to serious criminal violations? The training, salaries, and overtime costs that are involved in having local law enforcement trained and retrained to understand complicated and changing immigration laws under a 287G program are borne by the State of Wisconsin. Where is the money coming from to pay for this expensive new program?

In cases of violent crimes or felonies local law enforcement already carries out a thorough background check on foreign nationals and involves ICE. Van Hollen is proposing that routine violations such as driving with a broken tailgate become opportunities to question people about their immigration status.
Indeed, his message is part of a wider politics of hate. It follows proposed legislation, AB569, sponsored by Republican lawmakers – the so-called anti-sanctuary bill – which would prohibit city, local and state governments and agencies from passing resolutions or ordinances that prevent public employees from questioning people about their immigration status and reporting them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This mini-Sensenbrenner bill would immediately be challenged as unconstitutional and would cost incredible fees to litigate for the State of Wisconsin. It would of course lose in the courts because all courts have affirmed the supreme role of the federal government in enforcing immigration law.

In the face of these attacks, the 2008 elections will be crucial.

Shockingly, in the past only 33% (31,604) of Latinos eligible to vote in Wisconsin have turned out to vote compared to an overall average of 73%. This low turn out rate means that Latinos are not seen as a threat by politicians who want to stay in office. Eighty-five percent of immigrant families in the country are of mixed immigration status – that means that someone in the family is a US citizen or lawful permanent resident. All of us know someone who is eligible to vote.

If we had the courage to leave our jobs – many with the threat of dismissal – to march in the streets in 2006 and 2007, we can certainly organize to identify and encourage Latino US citizens to turn out to vote on Election Day on Tuesday, February 19, 2008 for the presidential primaries and city and county elections.

Voces de la Frontera has a goal of registering 5,000 new voters and increasing our total voter turn out in the 2008 elections. As in previous years we are here to help the Latino community understand the process for having their voice heard at the voting booth.

On February 19, if you are an eligible voter, vote for those who can’t. Vote for yourself and your family. Vote for your community. ¡Si se puede!