The Dream Act isn't a perfect solution, but it may be the fairest way of dealing with the problem of illegal immigration

July 01, 2011

When I joined the Howard County police department in 1974, I was the first woman hired to perform routine patrol duties that previously had been performed only by men. I was assigned to work with Sgt. Ed Wessel, who had been around a while and was, let's just say, a traditionalist. It was clear that he and others in the nearly 100-man force were at best uncertain how women would integrate and perform in law enforcement. But Ed Wessel was a professional who worked diligently to give me the same support, encouragement, guidance and respect he had given to every other rookie officer during that era of transition. He was fair.

Today, I again thought about what fairness means in a time of transition. For years, we as a country allowed and in many ways encouraged illegal immigration. We were not really serious about securing our borders and reaped the benefit of cheap labor.

When I moved to Arizona from Maryland nine years ago I was faced with the issue of illegal immigration in a much more direct way. I have prosecuted hundreds of defendants for human and/or drug smuggling and trafficking. I have worked on public benefits for illegal immigrants and on sanctions for employers who hire them. The costs of illegal immigration to our community have been part of my professional life here in Arizona.

As a nation we can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to this issue. But to move forward as a country we must recognize our past failures. Yes, we must secure our borders. But we will never find a perfect way to deal fairly with those who made the choice to come here illegally.

I believe the Dream Act that gives illegal immigrants who are already here a path to citizenship is the fairest way to resolve this dilemma. This is what I learned about fairness from Sgt. Wessel. I want Jose Antonio Vargas and Angelica Hernandez as fellow citizens of my country. We may never find a way of reforming our immigration laws that satisfies everyone's concerns, but the Dream Act is probably the closest we will ever come to doing so while honoring fairness as a core American value.

Marna McLendon, Scottsdale, Ariz.

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