Ryan J. Rusak

Don’t let immigrants’ fears derail common sense on terrorism patrols, Census question

Add certain counterterrorism exercises to the list of things that, apparently, must be curtailed because they might frighten people who are in the country illegally.

Last month, agents of a special Department of Homeland Security team were patrolling a Dallas light-rail station, and word spread of possible immigration enforcement activity, The Dallas Morning News reports.

It was nothing of the sort. The Transportation Security Administration’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response, or VIPR, team, was patrolling alongside Dallas Area Rapid Transit police. (An aside: Government acronyms are just the worst). It happens a few times a year, The News reported, in an effort to dampen the risk of terrorist attack.

A member of DART’s board says it needs to re-examine the relationship with the federal agency because it may not be — wait for it — “culturally sensitive” enough.

I don’t know what it’s like to fear my family could be torn apart over immigration status. I don’t like the idea that hardworking, otherwise law-abiding people panic at the sight of federal law enforcement agents. I want the vast majority to be able to stay and, eventually, pursue citizenship.

But a lot of perfectly reasonable government actions are being declared out of bounds because some leaders and activists fear they might upset people who are, to begin with, breaking the law by being in the U.S. Perversely, this hurts the cause of finally fixing our dysfunctional approach to immigration.

CENSUS CITIZENSHIP QUESTION

Consider the kerfuffle over whether to include a question about citizenship on the U.S. Census. Set aside the Trump administration’s botched handling of the legal case on it, the idea that we can ask people about race, relationships and even how many toilets they have, but not their citizenship, is silly.

Immigrant advocates contend, admittedly with some justification, that some families will duck the Census for fear that federal law enforcement might abuse the information.

Making matters worse is that the entire issue is framed around the precious drip, drip, drip of federal funding. Local officials warn that cities will collapse if a single deficit-fueled dollar is missed. That trope has gotten so out of hand that Texas schoolchildren are being enlisted to nag their parents to fill out Census forms. Apparently instilling fear is just fine if a few more federal bucks are to be gained.

There’s more. Recently, El Paso lawmakers took Gov. Greg Abbott to task because he dared to tweet the unquestionable fact that a Supreme Court ruling puts states on the hook for educating unauthorized immigrants. Saying so was deemed “dangerous” in the wake of the El Paso shooting.

Abbott didn’t use pejoratives. He didn’t even say immigrants should be turned out of schools; he knows that would be immoral. But even discussing the matter is beyond the pale?

Here in Fort Worth, we saw the overhyped debate over whether Tarrant County jailers should be able to check the immigration status of people arrested and brought to the jail. The program, known as 287(g) after a section of U.S. law, merely has sheriff’s deputies doing on nights and weekends what Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents working at the jail do during normal business hours.

The jail has been participating for more than two years under Sheriff Bill Waybourn, and when it recently came up for renewal, opponents couldn’t point to a single person actually harmed under the program. But they portrayed merely cooperating with federal law enforcement as akin to a hate crime.

On the DART patrols, like many Americans, I have grown weary of security theater. Don’t get me started on the sad state of our airport experiences. But if the sight of an armed federal agent makes a potential bomber think twice about attacking a DART platform or train, it’s worth it. Period.

And it should go without saying that immigrants using DART will benefit if we do whatever we can to protect mass transit from terrorist attacks.

NEED FOR NEW LAW

These increasingly frustrating debates underscore the need for a major shift in immigration policy. The vast majority of unauthorized immigrants are law-abiding and contribute much more to society than they take out. Many are raising American citizens. We need solutions that allow them to live without fear.

Most urgently, young people who were brought here and know no other home need access to education and a quick path to citizenship.

As with so many things, President Donald Trump’s noxious approach to the issue distorts the debate. We need not antagonize millions of families with vague warnings of ICE raids, and the wall that he just can’t seem to deliver as promised isn’t the answer, either.

But the cause of fixing our immigration system is misserved when we can’t take common-sense steps because some immigrants might be upset. You won’t win a lot of converts to the cause by arguing against anti-terrorism patrols, the deportation of violent criminals or a simple Census question.

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Ryan J. Rusak is opinion editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He grew up in Benbrook and is a TCU graduate. He spent more than 12 years as a political journalist, overseeing coverage of four presidential elections and several sessions of the Texas Legislature. He lives in east Fort Worth.
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