Reading from a rare prepared statement, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin promised to veto a resolution strengthening and codifying several protections for undocumented immigrants if one provision, designating the Common Council office as a “safe space,” is not removed.

“I see little value and a great deal of risk in such an action,” he said in the statement. “First, the practicality of the city council offices becoming a sanctuary is minimal. Secondly, the location (on the fourth floor of the City County Building) is less than ideal. Lastly, the facilities are impractical.”

But most importantly, Soglin said, the “safe space” provision might spark the tempers of state legislators, who have threatened to withhold state funding from so-called “sanctuary cities” in the past.

“The rest of the resolution is fine,” Soglin said. “Most of what goes in there, except for that one spot, actually modernizes our position, brings it in alignment with city policies and procedures.  The risk in all of this is bringing down the wrath of the state upon the city. I believe that we are less likely, significantly less likely to have that happen if that language is omitted. I see nothing in that language that adds substance to our position.”

The proposal would also limits communication between the City of Madison and ICE; restricts the spending of City funds on immigration enforcement actions; prohibits City agencies from denying City services based on immigration status; makes clear that city officials, like the police, will not ask or disclose someone’s immigration status unless the person has committed a felony, among other things.

The “safe space” language is “symbolism,” Soglin said. “There’s little or no content to it and I just don’t understand why it is necessary. If you are engaged in a battle, pick your fights strategically. Maximize your ability to win. Maximize your ability to gain public support. Stay unified.”

The symbolism is part of the point, said Alder Shiva Bidar, who drafted and introduced the measure.

Madison Alder Shiva Bidar speaks at the United We Stand immigration forum Sunday.
Madison Alder Shiva Bidar speaks at the United We Stand immigration forum Sunday.

“I believe it’s appropriate to designate a safe space to send the message to our residents that we are willing to stand up and to be bold,” Bidar said. “We need to stand up for our values. I think it’s time for us to be bolder. The mayor wants us to be conservative and fear what the state will do. I will not do that.”

“I don’t see how (the safe space provision) is the one thing that’s going to be an issue,” said Alder Mark Clear, one of ten co-sponsors of the resolution. “We definitely need to figure out what it means in practicality. It may be as much about making a statement that we’re going to create a safe space or safe spaces, and this is the most convenient and the one the Council has control of.”

The measure will be up for debate and vote at the February 7 meeting of the Common Council.