Green Bay Immigrant Initiative Meets Resistance from Residents at Meeting
More news from Green Bay and a mixed review from the paper’s editorial board…
Madison Area Office
ACLU of Wisconsin
Posted May 6, 2007
Residents voice staunch opposition to Green Bay measure
The largest, most vocal group to attend a City Council committee meeting in recent memory has gone home, but the high emotions it brought to the forefront are bound to linger as the council wrestles with an immigration control measure.
Proven violations could mean revocation of those licenses, which are issued for selling liquor, cutting brush, collecting trash and a variety of other purposes.
The council's Advisory Committee listened to three hours of testimony last week before tabling the matter for further discussion later in the month.
Meanwhile, the council's Protection & Welfare Committee is scheduled to take up the issue at 6 p.m. Wednesday to consider how police would enforce such an ordinance.
At Thursday's Advisory Committee meeting, at least 60 people attended and 29 of them spoke. Only two spoke in favor of the proposed measure, and most of the rest were passionately opposed to it.
Some were sarcastic, some expressed embarrassment to live in a community that would propose such an ordinance and some accused the City Council of racism for bringing up the issue.
Committee members seemed hurt and surprised to be accused of being racist.
"Everyone who knows me knows I'm not a racist," said Council President Chad Fradette, who drafted the proposed ordinance. "I just don't want Green Bay to be viewed as a sanctuary city."
"The federal government is not enforcing its laws," Alderman Tom Weber said.
Engracia Enriquez of Bellevue brought tears to some eyes as she described the hardships she and her husband endured to become legal citizens — and their continued hardships in trying to bring her husband's mother to this country. She said committee members should put themselves in her place, or other immigrants' places, before enacting such policies.
"It hurts my heart," she told the audience. "We're not choosing to be illegal."
Fradette, who chairs the committee, had spent all evening gaveling down applause that followed each speech, but even he joined applause that followed Enriquez's testimony.
Fradette said he's not insensitive to the plight of immigrants; he just wants people to come to the United States legally. Amid criticism that the ordinance would encourage racial profiling, Fradette included language in his draft that decries discrimination.
"In no way does the city intend or condone discriminatory practices or profiling but rather simply, adherence to the law," the draft states.
Threatening to revoke the license of people hiring undocumented workers may have the unintended effect of encouraging employers to refuse to hire anyone who looks or sounds like a foreigner, but that, too, is a violation of federal law and could be the basis for a license revocation, Fradette said.
Despite overwhelming opposition at the meeting to the proposed ordinance, Fradette and Weber expressed confidence that the majority of the public in Green Bay favors the action. Both reported receiving messages of overwhelming support from constituents.
"The vast silent majority knows this is a problem," Alderman Chris Wery said.
Still, there's plenty of work to be done. Alderman Tony Theisen, who is not a member of the Advisory Committee, said the council needs to know whether Green Bay police have any ability to enforce such an ordinance.
Theisen said he favors anything that would help enforce local, state and federal law, but he pointed out what appears to be a logical flaw in the ordinance, which states: "No license shall be revoked under this ordinance until after a federal determination of an alien's unlawful status is received."
Theisen said: "If the whole reason we're doing this is because the federal government is not doing anything (about illegal immigration), why do we think they'll do anything here?"
Unless that's resolved, the ordinance "adds nothing to our toolbox," Theisen said.
Fradette said he hoped some of that would be resolved when the Protection & Welfare Committee discusses enforcement.