THE BLOG

Kapow! Two More Bite the Dust as Immigrants Celebrate on Election Night

May 09, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2011

The list of politicians in Illinois who engage in open immigrant bashing is thankfully small, and after Tuesday's election it just shrank by two. New Congressman Mike Quigley easily dispatched Illinois Minuteman Project founder Rosanna Pulido to replace Rahm Emanuel in the 5th Congressional District, and in Waukegan the polarizing voice of Mayor Richard Hyde was silenced under an avalanche of Latino support for upset victor Bob Sabonjian.

Quigley's victory was no surprise as Republican candidate Pulido was so fringe that she received no support from the national Republican Party. Pulido's over-the-top self-hatred and hatred of those with whom she disagrees was exposed during the campaign. Her on-the-record statements against Mexicans (her own ethnicity), Cardinal George and the Catholic Church (her own faith), gays, President Obama and Muslims caused even some of her conservative supporters to repudiate her. Quigley romped to victory, and Pulido was exposed as a vile hater.

I mean, what can one actually say about someone who is running for public office and refers to gays in writing as "fudge-packers"; says that theft is part of Mexican "culture"; and writes that Muslims in prayer remind her of "dogs, smelling butts"? Let's just hope that Chicago columnists and talk show hosts finally get the picture that Pulido's "feisty" personality masks a vile and hateful dark undercurrent in American politics.

The defeat of Mayor Hyde in Waukegan was in some ways more telling of what the future of Illinois politics holds for those who seek cheap electoral advantage by targeting immigrants.
Hyde became a national champion of the Minutemen and anti-immigrant groups when, in June of 2007, Waukegan became one of the first towns in Illinois to implement the controversial 287g program, allowing local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws. The action provoked a meeting of protest by thousands of immigrants at the Holy Family Catholic Church and eventually a national New York Times story on immigrants living in fear in Waukegan and other cities where 287g has been implemented.

The 287g program has been long criticized by Latino and immigrant advocates as causing rampant racial profiling and police abuses, as well as resulting in less safe communities, because the immigrant community ceases to cooperate with the police when they are witnesses or victims of crime. Last month the Congressional Government Accountability Office issued a report criticizing the program as ineffective and subject to abuse. Just last week Congressional Committees held hearings on the problems with the controversial measure, and especially its abuses by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Arizona.

Waukegan Latinos did not wait for Congress, however. They have known for years that Mayor Hyde was not their friend. Working with my organization, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, community leaders have worked doggedly over the past four years to build their electoral skills and political muscle. Last year, with our support, they created the Waukegan Leadership Council, where they have continued promoting civic participation of Latinos.

Non-partisan citizenship drives through churches, ethnic associations and social service agencies have assisted 2,321 legal immigrants to become naturalized citizens in Waukegan over the past four years. Non partisan voter registration efforts during the 2004, 2006 and 2008 election cycles has resulted in 2,643 new immigrant voters in Waukegan. And in 2008, immigrant organizations spent more than $250,000 doing non-partisan immigrant-voter mobilization in Lake County, including Waukegan. The Dan Seals campaign for Congress in the 10th CD against Mark Kirk had its immigrant field operation run by leaders and staff trained through this process. Seals captured over 70 percent of the Latino vote, and November proved to be a dry run for Tuesday's Mayoral election.

The results speak for themselves. Mayor-elect Sabonjian ran a spirited multi-ethnic campaign based on inclusion. He won with 54 percent of the vote, walking away with a 700 vote margin of the 7,500 votes cast. Challenger Sabonjian won every single one of the nine heavily Latino precincts targeted by the anti-Hyde activists, with margins as high as 69 percent to 31 percent (precinct 395) and 57 percent to 39 percent (precinct 392), with many around 56 percent to 41 percent. Two of Sabaonjian full-time Latino volunteers were former staff persons of ICIRR.

The Sabonjian upset in Waukegan and the role of the dogged, patient work of Latinos to exact their political revenge on Hyde is a defeat for the politics of hate in Illinois and should make anti-immigrant politicians like Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran and Congressmen Mark Kirk and Dan Lipinski take notice for the future. But on Tuesday night it was all smiles as Latinos celebrated with Mayor-elect Sabonjian at the victory party -- which was held in the Mexican restaurant La Chapala, as Sabonjian supporters chanted, "Si Se Puede! Yes We Can!"