The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have shown us the value and importance of community support and trust. Across the country, neighbors have come together to support one another through these challenging times — as front-line essential workers, community organizers, volunteers — to keep all of our communities safe.
These neighbors include the 23 million immigrants who account for nearly 1 in 5 of all essential workers in the United States, nearly 5 million of whom are undocumented.
It is not just in times of crisis, though, that our immigrant communities have stepped up — immigrants have always helped make our communities stronger. As police chiefs of large, diverse communities, we have seen firsthand how our immigrant residents are enriching the community-building process and vibrancy of our respective cities.
As leaders in policing, we have met with members and leaders of immigrant communities and heard their hopes and visions grounded in faith, family, love of country and a deep respect for the rule of law. These residents want the same things as anyone else: to live in safe neighborhoods while being productive and patriotic members of our communities.
Despite these strong partnerships with our immigrant neighbors, a critical obstacle to public safety remains: Our outdated immigration system has not been meaningfully updated in decades. Hundreds of thousands of so-called “Dreamers” who were brought to the United States as young children have been left in a state of limbo regarding their futures. Our hardworking farm laborers have limited pathways to permanent status. And our undocumented neighbors have been driven deeper and deeper into the shadows. It’s past time for Congress to act.
From a law-enforcement perspective, this isn’t just about immigration but about enhancing public safety. Fear of deportation or retaliation keeps many of our most vulnerable neighbors from reporting serious crimes or cooperating with local law enforcement. This fear lends itself to eroding trust, feeding the cycle of victimization and making all of us less safe.
We have both seen our communities band together to help immigrant families feel safe cooperating with local police. In Phoenix, Arizona, faith-based groups worked tirelessly to build bridges between the immigrant community and public safety officials, communicating that the police represent safety and that immigrants are contributing members of our society who deserve protection.
In Chelsea, Mass. — a community that’s more than 65 percent foreign-born — the road to building trust with our immigrant population takes place day-by-day, shift-by-shift and ultimately call-by-call. With the assistance of dedicated organizations like La Colabortiva de Chelsea, many residents feel confident cooperating with the police — but fear is still present, meaning this vulnerable group is targeted repeatedly by those who exploit their immigration status.
There has long been bipartisan support for permanent immigration solutions. Partisan politics and worsening polarization have created unnecessary hurdles to constructive conversations and negotiations, but senators now have a critical opportunity.
Democrats are proposing immigration solutions in their Senate budget reconciliation bill. The bill’s important immigration proposals include border security measures and lawful permanent status for qualified Dreamers and certain other immigrants. We hope that these solutions survive various procedural hurdles and are included in a final bill that passes.
We have always supported bipartisan paths to immigration solutions, and still do. But when push comes to shove, the solutions themselves matter most. Right now, we believe that the Democrats’ reconciliation package is our most viable path to much-needed reforms that will improve public safety and build stronger communities.
Simply put, this isn’t about politics — it’s about people. When smart, innovative solutions are on the table that would improve lives and simultaneously enhance public safety, we’re not concerned with what side of the aisle they came from. Strong, persistent leadership is essential to fix this broken system.
The certainty that comes with legal status will solidify immigrants’ contributions and help grow our economy. It will allow them to live, work and thrive in the communities they call home.
Such solutions also will enhance public safety. As members of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, we know that when immigrants feel safe in their communities, we all feel safer. Bringing undocumented populations out of the shadows and into the legal immigration system will help us continue to build much-needed trust with our entire community, allowing all residents to feel safe and secure partnering with and assisting local law enforcement regardless of immigration status.
In the wake of the pandemic, Congress must prioritize legislation that will bolster economic recovery, enhance public safety and strengthen community trust. That means enacting solutions for Dreamers and others, via reconciliation if necessary.
Ramon Batista is the retired police chief of Mesa, Ariz. Brian Kyes is the police chief of Chelsea, Mass. Both are members of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force.
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