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Immigration march

Students from Madison East High School march to the Capitol to protest an anti-immigrant bill Feb. 18, 2016. Photo by Saiyna Bashir.

SAIYNA BASHIR/ THE CAPITAL TIMES

In Wisconsin, our ancestors come from all corners of the globe. We’re proud of this heritage. We have festivals celebrating our Irish and German roots. Each bratwurst and beer harkens back to our native lands.

Sadly, in our current fear-based political environment, immigration has turned into something to attack rather than celebrate. We used to cherish the words on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It is disheartening to see how these words are no longer heeded.

In the state Assembly this session, the GOP have blocked any attempt at pro-immigration legislation. Recently, we have seen a slew of anti-immigrant bills being rapidly moved through the Legislature. These bills limit our local governments in their ability to deal with their communities in a way that aligns with their shared values. One would stop a city from designating as a "sanctuary city," forcing local law enforcement to act as "palace guards" over people living within their borders. The other would stop localities from issuing photo ID cards other than employment-related cards.

Our communities cannot succeed if we live in fear of our friends and neighbors. We should value and celebrate the diversity of the people around us. I am disappointed at how closed-minded this debate has been, with arguments based in fear rather than reason. I strongly opposed both of these bills due to the perception they create that Wisconsin does not value its immigrant population.

This country was built by immigrants. This state was built by immigrants. These are people who came from across the world to seek a better life for their children and future generations. All types of immigrants, regardless of how they came here, contribute to our culture and to our economy. In fact, there is broad agreement among economists that immigration has a net positive impact on the economy and the labor market as a whole.

We are talking about members of our community. These are people who shop with us at the store. Their children go to the same schools. They attend the same churches we do. And yet we create a divide. We support a narrative that says “it’s us versus them.” We have developed a system of defining "otherness" rather than being inclusive.

I call on people all over Wisconsin to reject this negative brand of politics. While I understand a presidential election year will heighten emotions on all sides, we have to move away from destructive talk about building a wall and who will pay for it. We have to move away from talk of biometric tracking and stopping all people from specific religions from entering our nation. That is not who we are as a country. Simply put, we are better than the rhetoric we hear on the evening news.

People have moved here throughout history to work hard in order to make life better for their children, grandchildren and beyond. This constant revitalization of the American spirit — bringing new energy, new cultures, and new ideas here — makes us strong as a country.

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I choose to defend liberty. And I choose to honor our country’s founding, which held that we are all created equal. Let us all stand side by side in Wisconsin to reaffirm the fact that our state motto, Forward, is not simply a word, but the direction we must move — away from division and fear and always toward justice for all.

Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, is a member of the Wisconsin Assembly.

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