As Congress debates bipartisan immigration reform and following a law enforcement briefing on immigration reform recently at the White House, it is clearer than ever that immigration reform will make our communities safer. Now is the time for reform.
By ROBERT STEPHAN
Special to The Star
Keeping my community safe has been my lifes calling. As Kansas attorney general and therefore the top law enforcement officer for 16 years, I have a deep understanding of the damage caused by an immigration system that prioritizes immigration enforcement when we should instead focus all of our resources on fighting crime.
When people fear deportation and families fear separation, trust in law enforcement erodes. I have witnessed the suspicion that grows in immigrant communities when those duly charged to protect the community take on the role of immigration officers.
This distrust makes it easier for criminals to perpetuate their crimes, and that makes all of us less safe. I shudder to think about how many crimes in our communities go unreported because of these fears.
Being here without papers is outside the law, but this civil offense should not divert or distract law enforcement from deterring or responding to crimes not for one minute. Prioritizing our resources is even more important in the wake of our countrys economic downturn, which has led to drastic cuts in law enforcement.
These reasons are why all of us who care about the rule of law must demand that better law be the rule.
First we must recognize that the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants who live among us came here not to break the law but to seek a better life for their families. Many were brought here as children and know no other country as home.
They contribute to the economy. Our children go to school together, and our families sit together in church.
Broad immigration reform will allow law enforcement officers to do their jobs without feeling like they must choose between the rule of law and respect for our neighbors and community safety. It will enable them to prioritize resources, and it will lead to better community relations.
In a spirit of bipartisanship and with a commitment to long-term solutions, the Senates Gang of Eight four Republicans, four Democrats has created a viable solution that can restore order and enable our local law enforcement to focus on maintaining safer neighborhoods.
Our elected leaders in Washington must continue to work together and eventually pass a long-term answer for all Americans those of us whose ancestors came here and those of us who, despite lacking documentation, contribute to our communities and aspire to become citizens. We must have a values-based conversation about the rule of law alongside a conversation that results in a road map to citizenship for law-abiding immigrants.
We must continue the tremendous progress we have made in securing our border, and we must have a system of accountability so employers have a legal workforce. At the same time, we must and we can honor both our tradition as a nation of immigrants and our immigrant neighbors desire to enjoy the full freedoms that define us as a country.
Across the political spectrum, let us unite and support a new immigration process that restores the shine to the rule of law, that reflects our values and that grows the economy.
Our communities and our country deserve nothing less.
Robert Stephan of Overland Park was Kansas attorney general from 1979 to 1995.