In all the arguments for and against the Arizona law giving local law enforcement the mandate to enforce federal immigration laws, a couple of key reasons against this approach have been missing. In my time as a public safety adviser at the City of Seattle, this issue came up repeatedly. It also came up during my campaign for Seattle City Council.
I have always been opposed to local officials enforcing federal immigration laws for the following reasons:
Some years ago we had a number of gang-related shootings in the South Park neighborhood. There was a large presence of the MS 13s, a Salvadoran gang with an international reach and organization. It was very important for the immigrant community in the neighborhood to work with police to solve the crimes and prevent further violence and gang recruitment. SPD officers worked with the community, and young people and participated in a number of after school activities including a very popular boxing club and soccer programs. The connections with these young people continue to this day.
Ask yourself: If we had the Arizona law in place at that time, what would have happened? The criminals would have won and the neighborhood and all of Seattle would be less safe. We simply must have trust between immigrant communities and our police department — which is a continuing effort.
A second reason less spoken of in this debate is one of public health. If people are afraid to go to the hospital out of fear of local officials' enforcing immigration law, disease outbreaks can develop under the radar and catch our public health officials by surprise. There is a very real danger of a pandemic at some point in the future, and we must be ready to detect it and react quickly. Doing so saves lives.
I understand the frustrations people feel about this issue. The federal government must pass immigration reform. If they do not, we will only see more of a movement for local control which could have potentially disastrous consequences for our public health and safety.