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Police chief supports legal path to U.S. for Dreamers

6 Nov

By Art Acevedo

In the days after Hurricane Harvey, “Houston Strong” became a slogan capturing our city’s grit and solidarity. Amid the loss of lives and homes, Houstonians stepped up to shelter neighbors, businesses donated millions of dollars for rebuilding efforts, and police officers saved hundreds of lives, risking their own in the process. We are still recovering, but we remain strong.

As the police chief of Houston, I couldn’t be prouder of the people I serve as we recover from one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. I also know how much work remains. That’s why I strongly support immigration solutions that allow Dreamers – the hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the U.S. as children-to remain in the country. These immigrants have played and will continue to play a crucial role in rebuilding our city.

The announcement of the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, came days after Harvey. The timing was poignant. As we rebuild after so much loss, we can’t afford to have Dreamers pushed into the shadows in fear that they will be deported. More than 124,000 DACA recipients have come from Texas, putting us second in the country. They strengthen our economy and neighborhoods. Alongside other immigrants, those Dreamers in Houston will be essential for dealing with, and helping us recover from, the estimated $108 billion in damage to the city.

Immigrants are also essential for keeping Houston safe. Having served in law enforcement for more than 30 years, I believe trust between police and residents is key to everyone’s safety. When immigrants hear of a U.S.-Mexico wall or a nationwide deportation “crackdown,” they fear going to police to report criminal activity. I currently lead a department of 5,200 law enforcements officers and 1,200 support personnel. They will tell you that the ugly national anti-immigrant rhetoric has had a chilling effect on their work with residents. They are now less willing to work with our police to report suspicious activity.

Recently, I joined dozens of law enforcement leaders in sending a letter to Congress asking for legislation that allows Dreamers to stay in the United States and continue contributing to our communities. We support any measures that allow law-abiding people to feel safe. We are concerned that, absent any action by Congress, Dreamers will be driven into the shadows and will not report crimes or cooperate with investigations. When Dreamers and other immigrants feel safe working with local police, all communities are safer.

Other law enforcement leaders and I are heartened to see members of Congress from both sides of the aisle show support for broad immigration reform. We hope they seize this moment to enact legislation to protect Dreamers. Such legislation could pave the way for fixing other aspects of our immigration policies, including proposals to secure our borders, reform visa programs, and give law-abiding immigrants pathways to legalization.

With DACA ending, the absence of a legislative solution would be short-sighted and counterproductive. It would hurt our city in one of its most vulnerable moments.

I have seen how strong Houston can be in the midst of devastation. Dreamers and other immigrants living in Houston only make us stronger. For the sake of the city, let’s welcome them so that their, and our, future is brighter.

Acevedo is a co-chair of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force. He was sworn in as chief of the Houston Police Department in November 2016 and holds various leadership positions with the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.