Skip to main content

Why cops should back immigration reform

By George Gascón, Special to CNN
June 19, 2013 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • George Gascon: Law enforcement should lend support to immigration reform
  • He says immigrants less likely to report if they are victims of crimes if they fear police
  • When he was top cop in Mesa, Arizona, he built trust with immigrants; crime rate fell
  • Gascon: Secure borders key, but at the same time U.S. needs path to citizenship

Editor's note: George Gascón is the district attorney of San Francisco, and the former chief of police in San Francisco and Mesa, Arizona

(CNN) -- Members of the law enforcement community must sound their voices in support of comprehensive immigration reform for the sake of public safety and for the sake of our country.

I write this as a former police chief in Mesa, Arizona, who now serves as the district attorney of San Francisco. I am an immigrant who came to the United States from Cuba at age 13, as my family sought democracy and freedom. I cherish the history and values of our nation and hope that Congress, as it debates immigration reform, will courageously embody the best of our country, enact a humane solution to bring 11 million unauthorized immigrants out of the shadows and fully integrate them into American society.

In the absence of federal action, states have taken immigration law into their own hands, implementing laws that drive a wedge between law enforcement and the people we are sworn to serve. A new study commissioned by Policy Link found that 45% of Latinos in Chicago's Cook County, Houston's Harris County, Los Angeles and Phoenix's Maricopa County were less likely to report crime because they fear police will inquire about their immigration status. More disturbing is that 70% of undocumented immigrants surveyed reported they are less likely to contact police if they are victims of crime.

Geroger Gascon
Geroger Gascon

When immigrants -- unauthorized or authorized - feel isolated from the protection of law enforcement, the entire community suffers. I saw this evidenced during my tenure as police chief in Mesa, Arizona, where local Sheriff Joe Arpaio's reign of terror over the Latino community led to increased crime rates in his county. Arpaio blamed most crimes in Maricopa Country on undocumented immigrants and made racial profiling a common practice. He frequently detained people who "looked Latino" until they could prove their status in the country.

In direct contrast to this approach, I worked side by side with community groups and civil rights organizations to foster a sense of trust between the Latino community and the Mesa Police Department. The effects of a broken immigration system were a constant thread in the stories of Latino mothers, fathers and workers who refused to report crime for fear of being detained or deported. In Mesa, we lowered crime by some 30%, according to FBI data -- a result of the trust our police department created with all communities, and not because of immigration enforcement.

Law enforcement should focus on community safety, not enforcing immigration laws. That is not just my opinion, but that of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against Arizona's SB1070, and of many police officers and law enforcement officials around the country. When undocumented immigrants live in the shadows, they become wary of law enforcement, crimes go unreported, perpetrators remain on the loose, and the safety of our communities is affected.

Analysis: Will GOP vote for immigration?
Menendez: Immigration key to GOP future
Obama: Bill is tough on border security

Anti-immigrant forces have long scapegoated undocumented immigrants as the reason for higher crime rates and the need for greater border security. We in law enforcement must come together and inform our senators that immigrants are a valuable part of our communities. Research shows that areas with a high immigrant population often have much lower rates of crime than similar areas without high immigrant representation. Our borders are also more secure than they have ever been, with the United States already spending more than $17 billion annually on immigration and border enforcement.

While it is important to control access to our nation and keep track of those who visit or come to work, establishing complete border security should not hold hostage the rest of the needed changes: Immigration reform means both border security and a sensible path to citizenship for aspiring Americans, instead of a narrow focus on just enforcement.

As the immigration bill moves through Congress, the law enforcement community must lend its voice to demanding real comprehensive reform of our immigration system. We must rally around the most important aspect of the legislation -- an honest pathway to citizenship, not one filled with landmines, for the majority of aspiring Americans who already contribute to our economy and our communities. The time is now. Passing comprehensive immigration reform will make our communities safer and make our country stronger.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of George Gascón.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2305 GMT (0705 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT