Thank you, Chief Burbank, for supporting President Barack Obama's executive action
Friday, Jan. 23, 2015
The struggle to do what is right rather than what is popular can be a difficult one, but it may be especially trying for public officials, whose very livelihood can depend on their actions. Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank proved his commitment to public service – rather than popular sentiment – with his recent comments regarding President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.
The executive action dealt with a number of areas of our country’s broken immigration system. For example, in addition to expanding the program that provides work authorization and other relief for immigrants who were brought to this country as children, President Obama’s order also strengthened our border security.
Congress’ opposition to the executive action was immediate, and it continues. Several state attorneys general and governors, including Utah’s, are challenging the constitutionality of the action, while last week the U.S. House of Representatives voted to deny funding needed to implement the president’s attempt to provide some relief for immigrant families.
Also last week, however, the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, whose membership includes chiefs and sheriffs of the 56 largest law enforcement agencies in the United States, submitted a friend-of-the-court brief supporting President Obama’s action.
Chief Burbank spoke on behalf of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association. As he has in the past, he reminded us that the way we treat our immigrant brothers and sisters affects all of us. In the case of law enforcement, refusing to create a path to citizenship for immigrants who have been in the U.S. for years prevents many immigrants from reporting crimes committed in our neighborhoods because they fear being deported. That same fear may prevent a victim of a crime from coming forward, hindering law enforcement efforts to make us all safer.
That our broken immigration system is bad for proper and effective law enforcement, not to mention the good of the immigrants, is no surprise. The system continues to force immigrants into the shadows, fearing rather than assisting law enforcement. This is not the fault of the individuals and families who have fled economic, cultural, political and religious persecution in the hope of creating a better life in America. The fault lies in Congress’ continued refusal to adopt a legal immigration system that works.
President Obama’s executive action is one small step toward recognizing the humanity of undocumented immigrants who have lived in this country with their families for several years. His action expands the category of college students who may stay in the U.S. without fear of prosecution, and allows their parents to remain as well, with certain restrictions. It does not provide any legal status; it also, as Congress demonstrated with its funding vote, fails to protect students and their parents from the vagaries of politics. Nevertheless, despite its many limitations, congressmen and women have taken to calling this minimal protection “executive amnesty,” even though it clearly is nothing of the sort.
States such as Utah, where immigrants live, work and add economic and cultural vitality, shouldn’t be wasting their time and resources on costly legal action. Rather, states should be demanding that their congressional delegations vote to preserve immigrant families, not tear them apart through deportation. State attorneys general – the top law enforcement officers in a state – should be joining Chief Burbank and the nation’s chiefs of police in demanding that Congress finally take action to encourage immigrants to assist in criminal investigations, for the protection of all residents. Citizens who believe in the dignity and sanctity of human life should be asking Congress why it has still not acted despite decades of human suffering.
For those of us professing our faith with our immigrant brothers and sisters, we must ask for far more from our elected officials than pithy, misleading sound bites and ideological lawsuits. We are called to welcome the immigrant and to be a voice for the poor and vulnerable. Fulfilling our Gospel call includes requiring that our national, state and local governments treat the immigrant with the same dignity and respect due to any human being. Immigrant families are not pawns to be used in ideological gamesmanship. They are part of the cornerstone of our society. I thank Chief Burbank for being an example of a government leader who recognizes and respects the humanity of all individuals, documented or otherwise.