Opinion: The Protection Of Vulnerable Children Is Paramount, No Matter Where They Were Born

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The number of children fleeing violence in Central America has risen dramatically this year, and many of them are seeking safety in the United States. As we enforce our laws, we must also respond humanely.

These children often have endured danger and chaos in their home countries, followed by harrowing journeys to escape. They are desperate for safety, but our government’s challenge in responding to the situation has generated concern on all sides.

In order to effectively secure our borders and provide for the safety of all, we need an immigration process that is fair and just.

As law enforcement officials, the safety of our communities is our No. 1 priority. The protection of vulnerable children is paramount — no matter where they were born. That job becomes even more critical for children who may have been exploited by criminals.

Recent reports demonstrate how drug cartels and smugglers target vulnerable populations, including children and their families and profit from them. Not being in the company of their families, children who flee in search of safety and have ended up in a new country are especially susceptible to exploitation.

According to our laws, some of these children will be sent home. But we must respect their human rights and their rights under the law while they are here.

At the heart of this tragic story is the urgent need to reform our broken immigration system. Criminal operations should have no say in the safety of our communities and the security of our country.

In order to effectively secure our borders and provide for the safety of all, we need an immigration process that is fair and just. We need a process that respects families and promotes family reunification. Such a system would ensure the humanitarian treatment of the innocent and vulnerable who are otherwise susceptible to criminal exploitation and false promises.

Reform also will help law enforcement work together with all members of our communities to build trust, root out crime and improve public safety. Our broken immigration system promotes illegality. We need a process that allows people to gain legal status so they feel comfortable working with authorities, and so we can focus on deterring crime and catching criminals.

Yes, we need to restore respect for the rule of law. The way to do that is through an approach to immigration that prioritizes legality and accountability. We need better laws that allow us to move forward together.

Border security is essential, but so are the American values that call for humane treatment of people fleeing desperate situations.

This is not solely a law enforcement issue — far from it. It affects our national and local economies as well as our local communities. We must all work together toward solutions that will not only keep desperate children from serving as bait for some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, but also provide an orderly way to determine who is eligible to come to, and remain in, the United States — children and adults alike.

The time to act is now. Let’s put a process in place that eliminates doubt, thwarts smugglers and cartels and establishes a healthy and efficient system that honors our values.

Clarence W. Dupnik is the Sheriff of Pima County, Ariz.; Tony Estrada is the Sheriff of Santa Cruz County, Ariz.; Margaret Mims is the Sheriff of Fresno County, Calif.; Michael W. Tupper is the Chief of Police in Marshalltown, Iowa; Roberto A. Villaseñor is Chief of Police in Tucson, Ariz.

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