05/22/2013 05:12 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2013

Immigration Reform Will Make Our Communities Safer

I support comprehensive immigration reform for a whole host of reasons. There's the moral angle: its wrong to have draconian laws that are out of sync with reality and keep 12 million people hiding in the shadows. There's the economic side: we need immigrants with a wide variety of skills to fuel our economy -- from computer scientists from around the globe who can create jobs and keep America at the cutting edge of innovation to agricultural workers who harvest our bounty. But, I want to talk about another reason to support immigration reform, that I don't hear being discussed: it will make our communities safer.

As it currently stands, undocumented immigrants all across the country are weary of talking to the police. Whether they are victims -- mugged or raped or exploited by an employer -- or witnesses to crimes, these immigrants fear talking to the police will land them behind bars or result in deportation. When violence, theft and abuse go unreported, perpetrators remain on the loose and everyone in a community remains vulnerable. To get a sense for how immigration reform can abate this, just look at the case study of New Haven, CT.

In 2007, New Haven began issuing its Elm City Resident Card to residents regardless of immigration status. In many ways, the program amounted to local immigration reform: an attempt by the city government to recognize and legitimize the undocumented immigrants in its midst in the wake of the federal government's failure to act. By issuing the cards, the city sent immigrants a clear message: you are welcome here and are part of our community.

After the release of New Haven's card, the city experienced an uptick in police reports and other forms of civic engagement by undocumented immigrants who felt a newfound sense of inclusion in their community. The city's law enforcement officials attributed declining crime to the advent of the municipal resident card and the ensuing rise in police reports According to Assistant Chief of Police Luiz Casanova, in Fair Haven, historically one of New Haven's most dangerous neighborhoods, there have been "improved interactions between police and undocumented residents" and "double-digit drops in every category of crime" in the five years since the card's release.

Documenting the undocumented in New Haven has made that city a safer place for all of its residents, from busboys to Yale professors. Now, think about how comprehensive immigration reform could make cities and towns all across America safer -- places where crimes won't go unreported because of the risks of coming forward.

Creating a path out of the throes of limbo to permanent residency and ultimately citizenship for the 12 million undocumented people living among us isn't just a moral or economic imperative -- it's a commonsense policy that will help all of our communities become safer.

Immigration reform cleared the Senate judiciary committee and is on its way to the Senate floor.

Join the virtual #iMarch for Immigration Reform happening today and tomorrow and let your senators and representatives know that a vote for immigration reform is a vote for a safer America.