October 25, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
On Nov. 8, 1992, I took an oath to serve and protect all residents of Orlando, Fla. During my nearly three decades of service, the city where I am now chief of police has changed dramatically.
In 1990, Orlando was home to just under 165,000 people. Since then, our city has grown by roughly 75 percent, and today nearly a quarter of residents are foreign-born. People from around the world call Orlando home. But not all our friends and neighbors are documented in the eyes of our nation’s immigration laws.
For local law enforcement, our focus is on serving and protecting everyone, regardless of immigration status. Stopping crime is our priority. The role of enforcing immigration laws has always been the responsibility of federal authorities.
To be successful in our job, we need to maintain a high level of trust with immigrant communities. That trust is undermined when federal immigration enforcement is seen as pursuing all undocumented immigrants, regardless of the context of their situation. In the worst cases, victims of crimes do not step forward because of their undocumented immigration status. In other situations, limited federal law enforcement resources are spent detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants who are not a public safety threat — diverting time and money from finding and removing people who are real threats.
To address this problem and help prioritize the limited resources of our immigration enforcement agencies, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently announced new “Guidelines for the Enforcement of Civil Immigration Law.” The guidelines focus the department’s efforts on the apprehension and removal of noncitizens who are a threat to our national security, public safety and border security. Furthermore, the guidelines advance the interests of justice by ensuring a case-by-case assessment as to whether an individual poses a threat.
This is a critical step in the right direction. All Americans will benefit from enforcement priorities that focus on public safety threats rather than targeting contributing members of our communities.
The guidelines shift how federal immigration authorities will employ prosecutorial discretion, moving away from rigid enforcement categories in favor of individualized assessments that focus on the public interest. This allows for DHS personnel to take the specific context and circumstances of a person’s record into consideration. This flexibility allows DHS to reach just outcomes, taking relevant aggravating and mitigating circumstances into consideration when determining whether someone ought to be a priority for immigration enforcement.
The new flexibility means that people who are threats to the community but might not fall under a specific category can now be targeted for enforcement, such as a known gang member who has yet to be convicted of a serious crime. At the same time, the new flexibility affords authorities discretion to determine whether to prosecute or not in situations where doing so would be unjust — for example, for someone who has a decades-old infraction but has since started a family, run a business and put down roots in the community.
The new enforcement guidelines make clear that unauthorized immigration status on its own will not be the basis for enforcement actions, and that’s a good thing. With limited resources, we should be prioritizing public safety threats, not arresting and deporting workers and family members. And for those of us on the local level who work to build trust with our immigrant communities, this will help alleviate fear of law enforcement.
When immigrants feel safe in their communities, we are all safer.
At the end of the day, the officers I work with just want to do their jobs and keep everyone safe. And the only way they can do that is if all residents, regardless of immigration status, trust law enforcement.
Orlando Rolón is the chief of police for the Orlando Police Department in Florida.
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