We must treat the safety of our communities with the same attention as our national security. And to ensure safety in our neighborhoods, immigration reform is necessary.
National security is about border security and accurately identifying who is in the country, both of which must be priorities for immigration reform. But it is also about our communities: We will be truly secure only if everyone in the community is working in conjunction with those of us who protect public safety.
With more than 50 years in law enforcement, including three decades as the sheriff of Pima County, I have a front-row seat to the negative impacts our faulty immigration system has had on our communities. Arizona has been ground zero for the mistrust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they are tasked with protecting.
If immigrants here without documentation suffer or witness crime, my officers need them to come forward so that criminals don’t get a free pass. Under our current broken system, victims and witnesses are far more likely to remain quiet. Yes, they are living outside of the civil code, but to keep everyone safe, we need them to work with law enforcement agencies to report crimes, provide witness testimonies, and build strong networks with their neighbors.
To do that, we need an immigration process that enables them to come out of the shadows and take their place as Americans. With the legitimacy that comes with legal status and the opportunity to pursue citizenship, we will be able to build the trust and communication that are critical to our collective safety.
I have thought long and hard about the most effective and innovative community policing strategies. Common-sense immigration reform can go a long way to help local law-enforcement agencies maintain trustworthy and collaborative relationships with the people we are working to protect.
Reform should not mean shifting even more of the federal government’s immigration-enforcement burden to state and local law enforcement. I am the first to acknowledge that we do not want to live in a police state, and requiring our state and local police officers to enforce federal law will only create a larger divide between our officers and the people they serve so valiantly.
Arizona has tried this tactic, and it has failed. It led to racial profiling, a deepening scarcity of resources and a distraction from the tough crime-fighting that should have been the priority.
But that misguided attempt at a solution sprang from the very real urgency that exists to tackle this issue. The broken immigration system is hampering our ability to protect and to serve, and a new immigration process will help us create more secure and healthier places to live.
Congress should listen to our pleas for action and make sound immigration policy a reality this year. Sheriffs, state attorneys general and police chiefs from coast to coast are asking them to take our difficult and highly sensitive jobs into account when proposing new immigration reform priorities.
Along with our friends in the faith and business communities, we have come together like never before because the current system is making our jobs harder. We are ready for a solution.