In the wake of the recent Arizona law -- a misguided and potentially unconstitutional attempt to deal with immigration at the state level -- it is important to examine the relationship between local law enforcement and federal immigration laws. While we understand the zeal that Arizona showed in addressing our broken immigration system, our goal in co-authoring this piece is to demonstrate how such sweeping legislation is not only unconstitutional, but also misguided and will ultimately fail to meet its stated goals. Deploying local police as immigration agents won't solve the issue and threatens to make communities less safe.
Immigration enforcement is clearly the responsibility of the federal government; it neither makes sense nor is there constitutional or statutory authority to give this responsibility to local police. Efforts to pass the responsibility of immigration enforcement onto state or local government have no clear legal basis and distract local law enforcement from their primary goal of fighting crime and keeping residents safe. When politics encroach into the realm of professional law enforcement, public safety is put at risk and communities suffer.
Effective local policing is entirely dependent upon the relationship between officers and the communities they serve. Members of the community must be able to trust the police in order to feel comfortable enough to call them when there is a problem. Immigration-status reporting requirements, "round-ups," and incarcerating people for immigration issues all hinder these efforts.
Community policing efforts during the last 20 years have helped bridge gaps in trust, especially with immigrant communities, and markedly have contributed to crime reduction. However, when victims or witnesses to crimes are afraid to call the police because of their immigration status and mandatory reporting requirements, many serious crimes will inevitably go unreported. This escalates cycles of violence and also grants tremendous power to certain unscrupulous employers in exploiting an entirely new and silent group of victims.
Building trust and establishing relationships in our immigrant communities helps ensure that immigrants assist the police in solving crime, prevent witnesses from running from minor crime scenes, and help in identifying and holding criminal offenders accountable for their actions. The current immigration system actually undermines the rule of law by forcing those who would otherwise follow a reality-based law onto a black market for fake ID's, aliases, driving without insurance or registration, and other forms of fraud.
Arizona residents, Boulder County residents, and Americans across the country are understandably frustrated with our broken immigration system. Our laws are being violated every day by both the immigrants who are working illegally and the employers who hire them. Nevertheless, placing our already-strained local police officers on the front line in a vain attempt to enforce the unenforceable only makes matters worse by endangering communities and giving people a false sense that the problem is being addressed.
The federal government should instead take the lead in ensuring that people are not able to cross the border illegally or allowed to overstay their visas, and that businesses are not able to exploit cheap labor off the books. People who are here should register, have a background check, and pay taxes.
The issue with people who already reside here illegally cannot be "enforced" away. The federal government lacks the resources (even with the assistance of local cops) to identify and deport 11 million people. The solution must be systemic and can only be accomplished through comprehensive reform. We need to replace our broken immigration system with one that works, and that responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of Congress and the President.
For the safety of our communities, we strongly urge Congress to move forward and address this important issue. We must stop playing politics with a problem that we should have fixed long ago.
Jared Polis represents Boulder County in the U.S. House of Representatives. Joe Pelle is the Sheriff of Boulder County.