Following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo writes that passing legislation to protect undocumented immigrant youth—for example, the bipartisan DREAM Act—is essential to rebuilding both trust and neighborhoods in Texas:
The announcement of the end of 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.
Texas Dreamers are experiencing unique stressors several times over. Not only are they facing uncertain futures due to the end of DACA as they simultaneously assist their communities in Harvey recovery, but they are also fighting to protect families from a mass deportation agenda. And despite claims from Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, police chiefs like Acevedo know that pro-immigrant policies actually make cities safer.
Earlier this year, Acevedo revealed that due to deportation fears, the number of Latinos reporting when they’ve been victims of sexual assault is down nearly 43 percent from last year, and it’s a disturbing trend seen nationwide. “Immigrants are also essential for keeping Houston safe,” Acevedo continues. “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,” he writes, “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.”
Some Republican leaders have suggested that Congress could take up legislation to protect DACA recipients early next year, but this is just another excuse to keep delaying. DACA recipients are already losing their work permits and protection from deportation, and especially in Texas, they and their families are living in fear of being torn from their homes and communities. Immigrant youth need a clean DREAM Act, and they need it now.