Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. February 16, 2022.
Editorial: Our View: Refugee resettlement is remarkable milestone
The arrival of Afghan refugees in Eau Claire marks a significant moment. Our state and our region have welcomed people driven from their homes before. And, faced with another crisis, we’re doing so again.
Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy became a temporary location for about 12,600 refugees last summer, after the Afghan government’s collapse and the Taliban’s takeover of the country. Last August we lauded the effort to help those whose lives were in immediate danger due to their assistance to American forces. While Fort McCoy was the epicenter, used while the refugees underwent background checks and had time to adjust to the United States, residents from across the state stepped forward to collect donations and ease the transition.
That editorial also said there needed to be a plan for how to handle the influx of people. Fort McCoy could not be allowed to become a semi-permanent refugee camp, with people living there for years. It is now clear that it won’t fall through the cracks to become some kind of large-scale holding facility for people who had, after all, done nothing wrong.
Fewer than 3,000 refugees remained at the base when Wisconsin Public Radio spoke with a family earlier this month. The goal, the station said, was to have “everyone resettled by mid to late February.” On Tuesday, the final group left for new homes.
This remarkable achievement illustrates just how important it is to come together as a community. The Islamic Society of Northern Wisconsin, based at the Altoona Masjid, asked its members to help. Lutheran Social Services is assisting as well. Such efforts are unmistakably different from the approach used by the Taliban. We can think of few messages that are more important for the refugees.
We have heard a handful of complaints, that’s true. One earlier this week, who raised multiple objections, went on to claim he was not opposed to immigration provided it was legal. That doesn’t hold up given his complaints. It is truly difficult to envision a way in which anyone could have been brought to the country in a more legal manner than by direct sponsorship by the federal government, as these people were.
Those who forget their roots have none. This, then, is an opportunity to keep faith with our own ancestors who came here in previous generations.
The United States has long been a refuge for those who could not remain in their countries of origin. Multiple waves of immigrants have come from all corners of the Earth, and those arrivals have indeed changed our country.
We are a richer nation, both literally and metaphorically, for the contributions of immigrants and their descendants. How could we not be, when our elected leaders have always been almost entirely descended from groups who arrived in prior generations? Regardless of your politics, no matter who you support, a look back at a candidate’s ancestry reveals people who were born abroad. And that ancestry is most often found just a few generations back.
Will these new arrivals ascend to those heights? It’s unlikely, but it’s also unlikely that any given individual will do so. Our hope is that they are able to reconstruct their lives in safety, that they can find a new path forward. It will take work, but finding a measure of stability, even prosperity, is hardly out of reach. In time, they may choose to pursue the path to citizenship, becoming no less American than anyone born here.
Our country is not perfect, of course. People are flawed and what we make is as well. But the truly exceptional thing about the United States has always been its ability to adapt, to change and improve. The mechanism for doing so was built into our government’s founding documents. Our founders never claimed to create a perfect nation, only one that could strive to become a more perfect union. Such a statement as theirs remains breathtaking in its humility and foresight.
The new arrivals have a steep path to climb. It is appropriate, though, that a community built upon the experiences of previous immigrants helps ease their new beginning in hopes they will find the same success and fulfillment as prior generations.
Kenosha News. February 20, 2022.
Editorial: Ballot drop boxes kicked to the curb
The court fights and whipsawing rulings over the use of ballot drop boxes is likely coming to an end. Thank goodness.
Tuesday’s spring primary marked the last time we’re likely to see the drop boxes here in the Badger State after the Wisconsin Supreme Court on a 4-3 decision denied a request from the state Elections Commission to extend their use through the April 5 spring election.
A final high court ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
While other contentious fights over election laws and rules remain, the drop box debate stirred confusion among voters and election clerks on what was allowed. Even two years after the controversial 2020 presidential election, fueled by baseless claims by former President Donald Trump who claimed there was election fraud, the issue was not settled.
The latest round of drop-box disputes came after a Waukesha County Circuit judge ruled they were illegal because their use wasn’t directly addressed under state law. That ruling was stayed by the District 4 Court of Appeals which held it was too close to the February primary to change election procedures — and then upheld by the State Supreme Court.
So, Tuesday was likely the last dance for election drop boxes.
The drop boxes were allowed after the Wisconsin Elections Commission issued guidance in early 2020 to election clerks across the state that they had the discretion to use drop boxes at a time when there still wasn’t a COVID vaccine and many voters were reluctant to stand in line at the polls and many were sheltering at home to avoid contracting the lethal virus.
Up until then, only a handful of drop boxes were used in the state. There were no reported instances of problems when the free-standing, locked mailbox-like drop boxes were set out by election clerks in some 550 spots across the state in the November 2020 elections as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. None.
But here is the truth: We got along without drop boxes before the pandemic and now, as the virus wanes we can get along without them again. Sports stadiums are filling with fans, the University of Wisconsin System is dropping its mask mandates on campus and other pandemic-related precautions are easing.
Some voters like the convenience of drop boxes, but the question is are they any longer necessary to the safe secure conduct of our elections — and the answer to that is “No.” Voters who don’t want to march to the polls on election days can still vote absentee through the mail or vote early.
As long as we’re building a funeral pyre of pandemic at the polls practices, there are a couple more things we’d like to jettison. Madison’s “Democracy in the Park” celebration in which election officials went to city parks and accepted absentee ballots is on that list. Voting is serious business and it doesn’t need a kumbaya festival at a city park. Add to that the self-declared “indefinitely confined’ rubric that allowed state voters to dodge the state requirement of showing identification when voting absentee.
For now, we’ll settle for kicking drop boxes to the curb.
Wisconsin State Journal. February 17, 2022.
Editorial: Close the Rittenhouse gun loophole so minors with rifles can’t parade down our streets
State lawmakers should be able to agree on at least one small improvement to gun safety in Wisconsin following the Kyle Rittenhouse acquittal in Kenosha.
Lawmakers should quickly close the loophole in state law that allowed Rittenhouse, a minor at the time, to march down Kenosha’s streets on Aug. 25, 2020, intimidating others with a semi-automatic rifle that he couldn’t legally buy — and never should have been allowed to carry.
Rittenhouse shot three people that night, killing two of them. A jury agreed he acted in self-defense, based on state law that favors shooters in conflicts.
We don’t agree with the result, though we respect the jury’s decisions.
Unfortunately, the jury wasn’t allowed to consider the one charge that definitely should have stuck. Rittenhouse should have faced a charge of illegally possessing a dangerous weapon by a minor. A judge threw out the charge because state law prohibiting children from having guns is written in a confusing way.
That law needs fixing. And three Kenosha lawmakers have proposed a solid bill to do just that. Their proposal, Assembly Bill 817, deserves broad bipartisan support.
State law for decades has prohibited minors from carrying firearms, with a few exceptions. Minors are allowed to use guns for target practice or instruction if an adult is supervising. Minors (those 17 and younger) also can wield dangerous weapons as members of the military while in the line of duty.
All that makes sense.
But a final exception — intended to let older children hunt — badly needs clarity and common sense in the wake of the Rittenhouse verdict three months ago.
Minors can carry rifles, the exception reads, if the barrel of the gun is longer than 16 inches and if the child is in compliance with hunting laws. What the law doesn’t actually say is that these minors must be hunting.
Rittenhouse, of course, wasn’t trying to bag a deer in a rural field or forest on the chaotic night when he shot three people. He was strutting around with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle through the middle of angry crowds in Kenosha, a city of 100,000 people where hunting isn’t allowed.
Most people on the streets that night were protesting the police shooting of a Black man. But Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, said he came to Kenosha, strapping the rifle to his chest, to protect private property that wasn’t his. Protesters had previously burned and vandalized some buildings.
When state lawmakers passed their sweeping prohibition on minors carrying guns more than three decades ago, they certainly didn’t envision Rittenhouse’s behavior. They thought they were accommodating hunting, which is part of Wisconsin’s heritage.
Yet Rittenhouse’s attorneys were able to exploit the oddly worded law to get their client out of any punishment for his reckless and irresponsible behavior. He should have at least faced a charge of being a minor (he was 17) in illegal possession of a gun. That’s a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum nine months in jail.
That charge was dismissed because the judge said the law appeared to technically allow long guns for kids, even if that wasn’t the lawmakers’ intent.
Reps. Tod Ohnstad and Tip McGuire, and Sen. Robert Wirch — all Kenosha Democrats — have proposed legislation to clarify the law. Assembly Bill 817 would require that minors be legally hunting for the hunting exception in the law to apply to their weapons.
Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, who leads the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, should give this sensible bill a public hearing soon and allow a vote. If anyone has a good reason to allow minors to patrol city streets with semi-automatic rifles, we haven’t heard it. A public hearing will provide a serious review and discussion.
It seems simple enough: If a minor is going to use the hunting exemption to carry a deadly weapon, that kid should actually be hunting, following hunting laws and have appropriate licenses. Nobody should want teenagers acting as wannabe cops on our streets. That’s what trained law enforcement officers are for.
The Rittenhouse case was loaded with political conflict over gun rights, drawing national attention and fierce debate. But keeping firearms out of minors’ hands — unless they’re hunting, training or in the military — should foster widespread agreement.