MODESTO — I was asked by Rep. Jeff Denham to participate in the town hall meeting regarding the very difficult, complex and emotionally charged issue of immigration reform.
In a forum led by the faith-based community, I was shocked by the level of disrespectful behavior and blatant bias in a house of worship. I was, however, impressed and inspired by the stories of hardship, determination and strength. Against all odds, immigrants come to America seeking a better life, and through some of the most horrific and difficult circumstances manage to survive and become productive members of our society. Those who seek a better life, the American Dream, are not criminals.
While we're all concerned about illegal immigration and the perceived effect on our communities, there must be room for a constructive, respectful dialog as we search for solutions to a broken system of immigration. It's commendable that our elected leaders are willing to listen to the people, seeking their input and ideas, for there are many stakeholders in any solution for immigration reform. Unfortunately, that opportunity was marred by short-sighted, selfish members of the community. Partisan politics and emotion won't help us reform a broken system or work through a difficult issue. Any solution must be fair to all.
A critical part of any solution is based upon community partnerships and trust. We must work together recognizing we live in a diverse community where most work very hard every day to pay their bills, seek an education and be productive members of the community. Building trust is difficult, but tearing it apart is easy.
California has a rich tradition of agriculture. It's a multibillion-dollar industry that feeds the world. Undocumented immigrant farm workers are the lifeblood of the agricultural industry. Thousands come on a seasonal basis wanting to work, many with families and children, all seeking to find a better life, and a vast majority do not engage in criminal activity. They pose no credible public safety threat, but there are those who do and we must hold them accountable, just like everyone else.
The men and women in public safety who protect and serve the people of our community do so regardless of ethnicity, political affiliation or immigration status. The Law Enforcement Code of Ethics guides our path.
Under extraordinarily difficult circumstances they serve to seek justice for the victims and to relentlessly pursue those who commit crimes in our community, victimize the innocent and prey upon the weak.
They do so to protect our freedoms as Americans and to protect our way of life. This great nation was built by immigrants and many of us have family who emigrated to the United States in search of the American Dream.
Law enforcement has a strong partnership with the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Our focus is the removal of criminal illegal aliens from our community, not the enforcement of federal immigration laws. That is the responsibility of the federal government, the very same government, in partnership with the people, which must decide how to best implement immigration reform.
We want any victim of crime to trust that we'll serve them, regardless of immigration status, and know that our service is based upon compassion and human rights. Those inalienable rights that are the very foundation of freedom and justice in our society. The same diverse society represents so many different nationalities and cultures because we are "one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all."
Finally, we must continue to respect each other's value and belief systems as we find a solution to immigration reform.
In the meantime, family, opportunity and the American Dream for hardworking families still awaits for those who want their children to grow up in the land of the free.
Working together, we'll continue to live in a safe, diverse community.
Christianson is sheriff of Stanislaus County.