Using People As Pawns

People aren’t pawns. At least they shouldn’t be, but they are right now.

I’m referring to the immigrants being shipped like parcels from Arizona, Texas and Florida to Manhattan, Martha’s Vineyard and Washington, DC. Hard-right Republican governors in those states are using human beings to score political points. The immigrants are unwilling foot soldiers in the culture wars.

Look, anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis knows that I’m no fan of woke liberals. So, yeah, I get the point. If affluent liberal elites living in distant cities and exclusive vacation spots want to tsk-tsk at all those racists living on our southern border then I understand the impetus to give them a little taste of their own medicine.

Migrants gather on Martha’s Vineyard.

But we’re still talking about human beings here, human beings most of whom are claiming some fear for their lives by asking for asylum in the U.S. And human beings who, by the way, could help this country with its labor shortage. (I wonder if those hard-right governors aren’t inadvertently doing those liberal places a favor by providing much needed workers.)

The Republicans would have a lot more credibility if their stunt was in the service of a serious proposal to deal with immigration. I would trade tougher border security and a remain in Mexico policy for a path to citizenship for the 11 million people already here and a big increase in resources to adjudicate asylum claims.

But, face it, the Republicans have no interest in solving these problems. In fact, any bipartisan compromise solution would rob them of a hot issue. Their interest is in revving up their base and making a play for some independent voters in November. I’m not especially sympathetic to the hard-left liberal elites on Martha’s Vineyard, but I am sympathetic to people, facing some form of push away from their homes, who still see America as place of promise.

And America still is a land of promise — no thanks to the likes of Ron DeSantis.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

21 thoughts on “Using People As Pawns

  1. I saw a news broadcast where they asked the “unwilling” migrants what they thought of their destination and they were happy with the choice. They liked where they were going.


  2. The White House has repeatedly stated that the southern border is secure. Therefore the MV50 can not possibly be real “undocumented” immigrants.

    No doubt the Republicans hired Hollywood extras to pose as immigrants. The Republicans have reached a new low and their stunt has unfairly made those poor Martha’s Vineyard liberals look like hypocritical entitled rich white people.

    Praying for Martha’s Vineyard. It’ll take them 6 months to disinfect everything!


  3. Hello, Dave.

    I mostly agree with your opinions, your point of view, and I like the points you make in today’s post. But your choice of words or tone sometimes drives me up a wall! Your tone today is fine, in my opinion, but would you please stop using the terms “woke” and “liberal elites” (or “woke liberal elites”)! I hate those terms.

    You call the other side “hard right Republicans”, so why not say “hard left Democrats”?

    You might call yourself a centrist Democrat, but you are actually one whom the hard right Republicans (like Tucker Carlson) would call a liberal elite–a college educated, comfortably financially situated Democrat ex-mayor of one of the most liberal cities in the USA. You have been represented in the press as being quite liberal. (I imagine some folks in Wisconsin would call you a “leftist”, based on external factors. The hard right Republicans would certainly call you a lefty.)

    You own two homes. Your job history includes bicycle promotion, government lobbying and land conservation. Note that that description applies only to a general and external view of you, but it sure sounds “woke” to me. There are no specifics, so you could be mortgaged to the hilt, economically poor, flunked out of college, and actually had those jobs because you wanted to sabotage the ideas you were working toward preserving. My point is, those terms “woke” and “liberal elites” are overused, over generalized and, in my view, pejorative terms which actually mean…what?

    Are you referring to all the residents of Martha’s Vineyard as woke and liberal elites? Have you ever been to Martha’s Vineyard? All wealthy enclaves are filled with and surrounded by the people and businesses it takes to keep those homes/properties running, from paint stores to lawn services to bakers and grocers to housekeepers, maid services and auto shops, hotels, restaurants…you get the idea.

    I don’t actually know, but I suspect the majority of the year-round residents of Martha’s Vineyard are not the wealthy occupants you are calling “woke” and “liberal elites”. They might be Democrats. They might even be hard-left Democrats. But please, stop labeling with the terms the hard right Republicans use to denigrate anyone with ideas they don’t like. Or, you could call the hard right Republicans fascists, liars, racists, anti- American, mean spirited bastards–or rich hypocrites–generalized epithets which are not necessarily accurate and which I believe diminish the points I think you, as both a journalist and a politician, want to make.

    With respect, Former English teacher and Lover of Words, Marena Kehl



    1. Thanks, Marena. I’m sure you’re right that the year-round residents of Martha’s Vineyard are mostly not wealthy. (I was there for my honey moon, 33 years ago.) But the point of sending the migrants there was to tweak the very wealthy seasonal residents, which form the place’s image.

      I actually do frequently use the term “hard-left” and “hard-left Democrats.” “Woke” may indeed be a word that is over-used or has run its course, but I use it because I don’t know of a better term to describe that sensibility. I think almost all readers understand what I mean when I write “woke.” It’s a kind of hyper-sensitivity to issues of race and gender and a certain quickness to find fault in others.

      I also often think twice about my use of the word “elite”, but here again I can’t come up with another word that says what I mean. By elite I mean, generally speaking, someone who is influential — in either party or in any other walk of life. I often layer on education and wealth.

      I’m guilty of everything you charge me with. I’m college educated, financially comfortable and I have a home in the Martha’s Vineyard of the U.P., beautiful Watersmeet, MI. As for being liberal, that depends on your point of view. When I’m in Madison I feel positively conservative. Up here in Watersmeet I’m a Marxist.

      Am I an elite? Well, I am by part of my own definition, but not by all of it. I’m hardly influential in the Democratic Party. And to the extent that I am an elite, it wouldn’t be the first time someone has criticized his own ilk.

      Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful comments and thanks for reading.


  4. One thing that seems to be predominant for today’s GOP leaders is that they are, pardon the expression, assholes. Head Asshole Donald Trump has proven that you can be a huge jerk, flout the rules, appeal to white men’s lowest suspicions and deepest prejudices and be successful. In DeSantis’ case, he took immigrants in Texas, not the state he governs, and decided to use them for his political gain. It takes a special dose of Machiavellianism to even think of something like that. Unfortunately, today’s Republican Party has a very deep bench of douchebaggery. Sadly, here in Wisconsin, we know this all too well.


  5. The anti-immigration members of the GOP need to go back and watch and rewatch President Reagan’s farewell speech. He praises the greatness of immigrants to America.

    We must remember we are a nation of immigrants. Regardless of how recent the arrival — today, yesterday, hundreds, or thousands of years ago.

    Plus, it’s an honor that immigrants want to risk everything to try and be part of the American experiment. They are not freeing to Cuba, Iran, N. Korea, Etc…


    1. Who is anti-immigration in GOP? Do you mean anti-illegal immigration? Big difference.

      The best amount of legal immigration is certainly open to debate.


      1. The GOP refuses to discuss a path to citizenship for the 11 million people who are here illegally now. They broke the law. They need to admit that. Maybe pay a fine. I get it. But, seriously? We’re going to track down and deport 11 million people? I’m with George W. Bush. Let’s figure this out.


      2. Ha I felt the same way about the use of “contact tracers” during the pandemic.

        You are probably right but too many things are using the “don’t follow the rules, just beg for forgiveness” strategy nowadays.


      3. I agree. But at some point you have to give up on broad principles and move to factual situations. There are 11 million people here illegally. They broke the law. I get it. But now what?


      4. Now what? Here is my suggestion: determine which neighborhoods have the most “In this house we believe no human is illegal” yard signs. Build immigrant housing in those neighborhoods. If you have to take part of the private golf club to do it, so be it. These people that want open borders must be made to have skin in the game. Then an honest conversation can begin.

        BTW off topic but sad to see Freakfest cancelled. I think that was one of your great accomplishments as Mayor, channeling your anger at the mayhem into something constructive. But now it is different times. Too big a risk of gunplay at the alcohol fueled nighttime events.

        We still have Opera in the Park, for the time being anyway.


      5. Thanks for your comment about Freakfest. I suppose it did kind of run its course. But some kind of big student party in the fall and the spring have been tradition since at least the 1930’s. You can’t break the laws of hormonal activity, I guess. This goes in cycles. The parties will eventually turn more rowdy and the city will have to take some action again in the future. Freakfest was a model that could be used again.


      6. Broad brush terms like the ‘American Right’, especially if one does not have first hand experience working with people who that term might apply to, don’t serve the discussion. Many on the right are in favor of legal immigration. Especially big business. They need the cheap labor.

        The 11 million are squarely on Biden’s shoulders. Illegal immigrants have been pouring across the border on his watch at 200k+ per month. Snidely, we should take the tens of millions he and his family has received in bribes from Ukraine and other players to build facilities for these people.

        Less snidely, and in agreement with One Eye, if you declare yourself a sanctuary city, then the politicians who made the declaration and all who voted for them, should open the doors of any property they own or are responsible for and proportionately take some on. Anyone who had any responsibility in enabling the flood should be fired or retired with loss of benefits. That won’t happen either. Wait, they can have plain vanilla Medicare, so they get a taste of what it’s like for regular folks.

        Since these are not possible options, I don’t see any way around amnesty and a path to citizenship. 10 year time frame. Any criminal activity or inability to find work, they would have to return.


      7. The 11 million figure dates back many years. Biden is not responsible for all of it or even most of it. In fact, there were so many people here illegally during George W. Bush’s administration that he tried to give them a path to citizenship 20 years ago.


  6. Biden’s border policy is an abysmal failure. Biden has been flying illegal immigrants to various places in the US since he got into office. DeSantis’ stunt, using migrants as pawns to make a statement, is no different than Biden’s practices. They are both equally abhorrent.


    1. I’ll concede that Biden’s policy hasn’t been as firm as it should be. But what every reasonable person should want is some form of resolution. It is crazy to think that we’re going to deport 11 million people. Let’s give them a path to citizenship combined with tougher border security. I’m flexible on the details, but let’s stop the stunts and get serious about a compromise solution.


      1. A solution is impossible because of the poison of our 2 party system. Wedges are too valuable, compromise is what RINOs do, not “true patriots”.

        To all those so in favor of legal immigration, consider that we have broken our legal immigration system. It’s been made close to impossible for non-rich people to legally immigrate. It’s not like the Europeans had it at Ellis Island, where legal immigration was as simple as a quick medical check and a stamp on a paper. People using the tactic of saying that the American Right is in favor of legal immigration are in my opinion dishonest, approaching the level of meaninglessness as being in favor of pig flight.


      2. I agree about the intransigence of the two party system, but on this one I think the Republicans are more to blame. In any event, that’s the central point of this blog and website. It’s a tiny effort to try to break out of the total polarization. On our own, YSDA is just too small to have much impact. But this is part of a much broader movement. Check out the Resources section of this site.


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