“I have always said this and I’m going to say it today. My message for immigrants and refugees has not changed over the years. In your right hand, trust the U.S. Constitution and the judiciary system that this country offers,” said Masood Akhtar at a press conference at the United Way today. “In your left hand, trust your co-workers, your friends and neighbors. Once you do that, then you can be assured, as I was when I accepted the U.S. citizenship … that we will continue to work to fulfill our dreams. Not just our dreams, but the dreams of others … just like the immigrants, their children, and their grandchildren have done for this great country.”

Akhtar is a Madison-area Muslim activist and the founder of “United We Are Many: United Against Hate,” a platform where people of different faiths unite together against hate and build an inclusive community. He was part of a broad coalition of Dane County leaders that make up the Immigration and Refugee Task Force who hosted the press conference today.

The Law Enforcement and Leaders of Color Collaboration (LELCC), which is led by NAACP and United Way of Dane County, recently formed the Immigration and Refugee Task Force, who said today that their first step will be to hold several community engagement sessions at various public spaces around Dane County.

“This will address the safety concerns that we have been hearing from our immigrant and refugee communities,” Renee Moe, CEO of United Way, told the crowd. “The goal of the task force is to identify key recommendations which will establish trust and build lines of communication between law enforcement and immigrant/refugee communities, to reduce fear, and to increase safety.

“The first step is coming together in a safe space where open and accurate communication can be shared in order to start these difficult, but extremely important, conversations,” she added. “This summer, the task force will host several community engagements sessions at various public spaces around Dane County.”

Greg Jones, president of the NAACP of Dane County, said that the NAACP has a longstanding history of opposing racial profiling and has always strongly supported the rights of immigrants.

“This task force is an appropriate vehicle to not only begin broad-based discussions in our community but to identify solutions. This task force is a necessary step in identifying and removing the barriers to participation and opportunity for all to engage in prosperity in our community,” Jones says. “Current federal immigration enforcement policies are antithetical to the NAACP’s principal objective of removing discriminatory barriers while supporting the democratic process for all. These alarming immigration enforcement policies have negatively impacted the lives and sense of safety and security among individuals and families throughout our immigrant community.”

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval
Madison Police Chief Mike Koval

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said that the Madison Police Department is proud to do its part in the task force and said that there is a “sense of urgency.”

“For us, here in Madison, we believe that all of our citizens are welcome. We want to make our services accessible and inclusion … consistent with our mission here of being a hospitable environment for everybody to thrive,” Koval said. “We are not going to allow our officers to be deputized or coerced, co-opted or connived into promulgating some federal initiative where people are being rounded up based upon mere immigration or documentation status.”

Koval said that if we have whole groups and segments of our Madison community that fear reporting to the police because of the risk of deportation, that he frankly would not have a good gauge on what the level of criminal activity in the city would be. “I don’t want crime to be underreported or not reported at all,” Koval said. “We are affirmative behind this collaboration and are grateful that it is taking place.”

Dave Mahoney said that as Dane County Sheriff, he strongly supports this Immigration and Refugee Task Force.

I am personally very interested to hear from members of our community on the issues impacting them. I have had the opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding immigration on a local, regional, state, and national level,” Mahoney said. “I believe that we must work towards comprehensive immigration reform, including an expedited means to citizenship for people living and working in our communities. Nationally, and certainly, in Dane County, we cannot find success from community policing when a segment of our community live in the shadows as victims of crime, fearing to come forth to law enforcement.”

Masood Akhtar
Masood Ahktar

Mahoney said that he would continue to say no to using deputies as ICE agents under the 287G program. “Not only because we have other pressing commitments and priorities,” he said, “but because it’s just not right.”

The powers given to law enforcement to detain individuals and to remove their freedom of movement cannot be taken lightly, Mahoney said. “We cannot – even with a federal request – compromise our Constitutional responsibility as law enforcement officers,” Mahoney said. “As such, over the next two weeks as a member of the National Sheriff’s Association, I will meet with federal authorities from both ICE as well as this administration to discuss their priorities and the values of Dane County law enforcement and their citizens.

“I look forward to continuing to have an outstanding relationship with all members of our community including those who are immigrants and refugees,” he added.

Akhtar said that refugees are not terrorists and they are like us in that they are looking for a better future.

“Let’s look at the facts. Since the Refugees Act of 1980, not even a single refugee has been implemented in any terrorists attack on American soil. Period,” he said. “Many of the attacks that have killed Americans are carried out either by U.S.-born citizens or permanent citizens from countries that are not on the list of banned Muslim countries.”

America is a country of immigrants, he said, and has always shown compassion for those fleeing oppression.

“We believe that what really makes America great and exceptional and has helped build our nation is our policy of accepting any and all people no matter their religion, color, or ethnicity,” he said. “So let’s unite and work together to keep our great nation as a role model for others to follow.”

Karen Menéndez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano
Karen Menéndez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano

Karen Menéndez Coller, executive director of Centro Hispano, said that for so long immigrants and refugees have not been actively recognized as significant members of this vibrant community we live in.

“If there was ever a silver lining to what has happened in the recent election is that those who may have been disengaged in the past around issues of equity are now engaged and ready to affirm their commitment to the rights of all,” said Menéndez Coller, who is co-chairing the task force with Chief Deputy Jeff Hook of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office. “As my staff at Centro tell me, ‘We must lead the way and we think about the role that we play at this time: prioritizing, protecting and informing our families.’”

As a group, Menéndez Coller continued, they are here to say that they are openly committed to deep and frank dialog and conversation in order to reduce fear to prioritize, protect, and inform the community during such uncertain times.

Menéndez Coller said that this summer the task force plans to host panels, engagement sessions, and open mics between law enforcement agencies and the community to dispel myths but to also deepen trust between one another. The first of those community engagement sessions will be held as a Q&A session hosted by La Movida Public Radio on Thursday, July 6th from 9 to 11 a.m. at Centro Hispano (810 W Badger Rd. in Madison).

The second community engagement session is scheduled for Wednesday, July 19, 9 to 11 a.m. at the Catholic Multicultural Center, located at 1862 Beld St. in Madison.

Subsequent sessions will be scheduled and announced at a later date.

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.