For decades, we have pushed Congress to create a road to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans living and laboring in our country. True immigration reform, however, cannot be achieved if creating this road comes at the cost of giving up or undermining our most cherished civil rights.
Reform in exchange for rights is exactly the sort of bargaining some members of the House of Representatives hope to engage in during the present debate over immigration. Today, the National Immigration Law Center joined over 100 other immigration reform advocates in rejecting this kind of political horse-trading.
Such an agreement might include the SAFE Act, a dangerous piece of legislation proposed in the House of Representatives that could spread racial profiling laws like Alabama's and Arizona's across the country.
It doesn't need to be this way. The House already has on its table immigration proposals that include creating a long road to citizenship for the 11 million, a faster path to citizenship for DREAMers, and provisions that would allow these aspiring Americans to fully integrate into the nation's social and economic fabric, with most of the rights and responsibilities that come with full integration.
At its core, the SAFE Act is an anti-immigrant bill that would violate basic civil and human rights. By placing immigration enforcement squarely in the hands of local police agencies, it would increase detentions and deportations, and create an environment of rampant racial profiling without fixing the immigration system and without regard to the disruption it would cause families and communities.
The increased distrust between immigrant communities and law enforcement that would result from enacting the SAFE Act would undermine the safety of all communities across the U.S. This is not conjecture, but rather the well-informed opinion of local, state, and county law enforcement officials who have worked for years to build trust in their neighborhoods.
Top law enforcement officials recently urged Congress to reject the SAFE Act, noting it would undermine the core mission of local police to maintain community safety and would waste limited law enforcement resources.
"The SAFE Act would radically alter the nature of federal immigration enforcement by vesting enforcement decisions in the hands of state and local law enforcement officials where it does not belong. Immigration is a solely federal policy and it demands a national solution," stated a letter to Congress signed by the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association (MCCA), the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), and law enforcement officials from Arizona, California, Illinois, Iowa, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
The preservation of community safety was a chief reason behind California's landmark TRUST Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law. The new law provides that California law enforcement may not submit to requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to hold people who have been charged with or convicted of only minor crimes so that they can be transferred to immigration custody.
Public opinion polls consistently have shown that voters support immigration reform that is humane and applies equal justice. The SAFE Act, advanced by extremists trying to poison this reform moment, would do the opposite.
The sad irony is that opponents of commonsense immigration reform have been down this road before and have failed. Their tool was H.R. 4437, known as the "Sensenbrenner bill" after its chief sponsor, then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). Included in the harsh bill were provisions that would have infringed on human rights of asylum-seekers by denying due process, lowered the standards for labeling immigrants as criminals, and placed more immigration enforcement duties on local police agencies.
The national public response was unprecedented, as millions of immigrant families and their allies marched through city streets across the U.S. to protest the Sensenbrenner bill.
That sort of mean-spirited legislation did not work then and will not work today, as the immigrant rights community will rise again in strong opposition.
So we tell Congress, "Don't go there. Don't derail immigration reform."
Congress must not risk this historic opportunity to pass commonsense immigration reform that is supported across a broad range of interests by giving in to narrow-minded immigration restrictionists.