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Congress, do not burden local law enforcement on immigration

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The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled Thursday to mark up a bill that would make it harder for local law enforcement to police for crimes and keep you safe.

As written, the Michael Davis, Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act would divert our attention from our core mission. The act essentially would require us to become agents enforcing federal immigration law, diverting our time and resources away from public safety.

{mosads}Don’t get us wrong: We are proud to partner with federal immigration enforcement efforts when serious criminals are involved and public safety is at stake. But we simply do not have the resources to make immigration enforcement a top priority without sacrificing other, more important community safety efforts.

We should not spend our time and taxpayers’ money apprehending and removing immigrants who are merely seeking to work or reunite with family. We can all agree that true threats to public safety and security are where state and local law enforcement should be devoting our limited resources and funding.

Going after hardworking immigrants has adverse effects that go beyond straining our budgets and manpower.

We are among many police chiefs and sheriffs around the country whose departments have spent years developing relationships of trust with our immigrant communities. We need everyone in the community, no matter where they were born, to feel comfortable calling on first responders in an emergency, including when they are a victim or witness of crime.

To put it simply, fears that law enforcement and immigration enforcement are one and the same have a chilling effect on reports of crime among minority communities. Already this year, the police chiefs in Houston and Los Angeles have said that members of the Hispanic community are calling in fewer reports of rapes, even though reports otherwise have not decreased.

The new bill would exacerbate this very real concern. None of us wants rapists or other criminals to get away with crime. Discouraging victims and witnesses of crime from coming forward makes our jobs harder and does not make you safer.

As law enforcement leaders, we need legislators at the local, state and federal levels to make community safety easier for us to achieve, not harder.

The bill Congress is taking up also conflicts with decades of established practice in which the federal government has the exclusive task of regulating and enforcing immigration.

Responsibility lies with federal authorities for a reason: Shifting it to localities and states would threaten the coherence of immigration policy and could lead to a patchwork of enforcement approaches, which also would do nothing to bolster public safety. Neighboring cities or states that prioritize different, perhaps even contradictory, goals would lead to confusion and slowdowns.

The bill before the House Judiciary Committee Thursday would hurt our local efforts to keep you safe, but Congress could take other measures related to immigration that would help our safety and security, as well as uphold American values.

Among other benefits, reforms to our legal immigration process would help us focus on true threats — criminal organizations and dangerous criminals, no matter their backgrounds. Legislators also should work to update our immigration process in ways that stay true to American values, address our workforce needs and favor American workers, not unscrupulous employers.

We look forward to working with federal authorities on efforts to root out crime. But we cannot best serve our communities if we are charged with enforcing federal immigration laws.

Edward Gonzalez is the sheriff of Harris County, Texas, home to Houston. Lupe Valdez is sheriff of Dallas County, Texas.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


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