December 22, 2015, Milwaukee, WI. Milwaukee’s oldest civic organization cited the early settlement of Milwaukee by refugees from Germany in support of a public statement calling on the U.S. and Wisconsin to welcome their proportional share of Syrian and other refugees. The Milwaukee Turners was founded by refugees who fled Germany after the failed democratic revolution in 1848, the same year Wisconsin became a state.
Noting the significant support that these German immigrants provided to the early years of the Republican party, including the election of Abraham Lincoln, the statement also briefly cites examples of fear and prejudice in the U.S. against German Americans during World War I, the denial of rights to newly freed African-Americans starting right after the Civil War, and the exclusion of Jews and other refugees from Europe during the Holocaust.
The statement contrasts the current position of Germany, which has welcomed one million refugees this year, including many highly educated Syrians, with the “the unconstitutional and xenophobic pronouncements which are being accepted as part of mainstream U.S. political dialogue.” It cites the powerless pledges of numerous governors including Wisconsin’s, to block refugees from Syria, and the fact that “multiple leading presidential candidates—not just one–have suggested a religious test” to exclude Muslims “or admit only those who can prove themselves to be Christian.”
Turner Board President Art Heitzer noted reports showing a sharp rise in attacks on Muslims in the U.S. as one reason the statement was important. “I am gratified that the Board passed this unanimously,” he added, “including our commitment to support the full civil rights of all of our neighbors.”
The statement concludes, “We call on all Wisconsinites, including the vast majority of us who are of immigrant stock, to support humane and safe admission of our proportional share of refugees from Syria and other nations. They will make our nation stronger, and to do otherwise is to play into an atmosphere of fear and isolation, and to fuel the flames of intolerance both at home and abroad.”
The full statement can be seen at the Milwaukee Turners website: www.milwaukeeturners.org.