We live in a country whose very foundation was built by immigrants — families from all around the world who, despite their differences in culture and language, had one common thread: They wanted freedom and opportunity that could be found only in America. This sentiment has endured for more than 200 years.
We are a country enriched through our diversity: diversity of culture, background and, yes, even a diversity of opinion that comes with a free society. We want to remain a beacon of hope and opportunity for the world and a country that welcomes those with open arms who choose to come here legally seeking better lives. For this reason, and because of our nation’s history, we cannot continue to neglect the issue of immigration. For far too long, our elected officials in the nation’s capital have been unwilling to come together to solve our immigration problem. It takes courage, tenacity and determination to solve complex issues that have caused such intense emotions, human tragedy and fear for the security of our nation. Instead, in Washington, they would rather play politics than address one of the core issues that defines us as a nation.
Until our representatives in Washington stop acting like politicians and start leading, the immigration issue will continue to go unaddressed. As a result of inaction, we have a dysfunctional system. Our border is porous and insecure and, as each day passes, the problem grows larger and the cost of inaction higher. What we need in Washington are public servants who are willing to come together in a bipartisan way and tackle the issue head-on.
Until they act, our immigration problem will continue to severely impact the states, leaving border governors like me to deal with another Washington failure.
For most of my life, I’ve lived along the border. In fact, I was a prosecutor for 25 years in a county that is less than an hour from one of the most violent cities in the world, Juarez, Mexico. As a border prosecutor, I’ve put criminals behind bars who worked for some of the most violent cartels in the world. I know firsthand the consequences of an unsecured border, and I understand how it impacts lives and families.
Now, as the governor of a border state, it is my responsibility to do whatever it takes to protect the people of New Mexico. That is why I have worked to repeal laws that jeopardize public safety, because my state will never be a sanctuary for criminals.
That wasn’t the case before I took office. Illegal immigrants who committed crimes used to flock to New Mexico to seek sanctuary. One of my first actions as governor was putting an end to the “Sanctuary State” policy, and now our state police can inquire about the immigration status of anyone arrested for committing a crime. Today, our state is safer because we put an end to this dangerous policy.
We have also cracked down on fraud, busting elaborate operations that provided hundreds of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants from around the globe. As a result of our action, we have seen a 31 percent drop in illegal immigrants obtaining licenses.
However, problems remain. My predecessor allowed driver’s licenses to be given to illegal immigrants — an unsafe practice that I am working to repeal. Every year since I’ve been in office, I have worked across the aisle to craft a bipartisan compromise to repeal this dangerous law, but partisans in the Legislature continue to stall efforts, even though 75 percent of New Mexico voters support repealing the law.
But what we do in the states is not enough. We need Washington to take action and address immigration in a genuine and serious manner. Until Washington passes comprehensive immigration reform that starts with securing the border, members of Congress cannot claim with a straight face that they are putting the best interests of their constituents first. Instead, they are merely acting like politicians, not the leaders they are expected to be.
Solutions do not rest with rewards for lawbreaking, but neither do they lie in shutting America’s doors and rolling up the welcome mat. The problems will continue to mount, and the challenges will only grow until we find some common ground.
Reforming our immigration system will not be easy, but I believe that by working together, we can rise to the challenge. If we succeed, our country will have more economic growth, a richer culture and greater security for everyone. That should be something, regardless of party, everyone can agree upon.
• Susana Martinez is the governor of New Mexico and the first Hispanic woman elected governor in American history.