COMMENTARY: Facts, not fear-mongering, needed in immigration debate


For many years Congresses and presidents from both parties have failed to compromise on practical solutions to fixing America’s broken immigration system.

Washington is paralyzed by the harsh rhetoric that has framed the immigration debate. Too often, fear-mongering clashes with fact and reason.

Delaware is not Washington. Or at least it’s not supposed to be.

This June, the General Assembly passed bipartisan legislation to make Delaware’s roads safer for everyone. Beginning in 2016, undocumented Delawareans who have (1) paid taxes in Delaware for at least two years; (2) passed driving and vision tests; (3) provided fingerprints for a background check; and (4) paid an application fee will be able to obtain a Driving Privilege Card and drive legally in Delaware. This also will enable these individuals to purchase insurance, again benefiting everyone on our roadways.

Townsend, Bryan Sen. Bryan Townsend

In the lead-up to the vote, the debate was respectful and fact-focused. The result was Driving Privilege Card legislation that promotes safety for all Delawareans and addresses the valid concerns of law enforcement officials.

Sadly, one of my General Assembly colleagues, Rep. Steve Smyk, recently wrote an opinion piece on immigration (“Immigration sets bad precedent,” Commentary, July 26) that represented a sharp departure from the kind of civil and sincere dialogue for which Delaware is known.

His piece exploits a recent tragedy in California to misrepresent another piece of legislation that formalizes how police in Delaware already interact with federal immigration officials. He did so even after I’d made it clear to my colleagues that I don’t intend to pursue a vote on the bill. His commentary lacks accuracy and compassion, and it takes Delaware’s larger immigration conversation backwards.

Delaware’s police officers are dedicated to arresting those who pose threats to public safety (whether they are U.S. citizens or undocumented immigrants), not those who are here illegally but pose no threat to the community. Delaware police should not be asked to do the job of federal immigration officials.

Rep. Smyk served 24 years with the Delaware State Police, so he should know why police officers tend not to call immigration officials: those officials are unlikely to use their limited resources to pick up a non-violent immigrant for deportation.

He further seems to assume that all undocumented immigrants should be deemed a permanent threat. I join most Delawareans in rejecting that notion.

Aside from accuracy, his argument also lacks compassion. Many of us have friends or neighbors who are immigrants. We’ve seen firsthand how much they’ve contributed to our economy and community as they work, worship, and raise families alongside ours.

Rep. Smyk, on the other hand, suggests we should live in a state where our police enforce immigration laws. Think about what that would mean for victims of domestic violence or child abuse who want to seek police protection: they would be forced to choose between being beaten in the shadows or deported in the daylight.

Rep. Smyk uses fear-mongering to argue that our tolerance of immigrants could make us more susceptible to terrorist attacks. Let me be clear: no bill I have sponsored, or would even consider supporting, would do anything to interfere with state and local law enforcement’s ability to engage federal authorities in the face of a terrorist threat. To suggest otherwise is to willfully ignore facts in hopes of inciting fear. Doing so never leads to good public policy and should have no place in Delaware’s political discourse.

I appreciate the frustrations people have with America’s flawed immigration system. In fact, I share them. My wife Lilianna legally immigrated to the United States when she was just a few years old, after a difficult journey from Vietnam. It doesn’t sit well with me to know that each year people like Lilianna — who follow the rules in hopes of a chance to pursue the American Dream — miss out because others break the rules.

But I also do not think it is practical or even possible to somehow just deport all those who came here illegally, especially when after years of our inaction so many have become fully integrated into the America we now share.

We must fix our immigration system in a way that encourages the influx of new ideas and energy that make America unique. Immigrants risk so much to come here because they have a deep thirst for the opportunity to work hard and build a better life. In that sense, their journey is the quintessential American journey. It is time we agree on an American solution — one that honors our history as a nation of immigrants but better regulates immigration going forward.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sen. Townsend, a Democrat, represents the 11th District of Newark and Bear.

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