04/26/2013 07:42 am ET Updated Jun 26, 2013

Make U.S. Safer by Passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform

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What do the Boston bombings tell us about immigration? That we need immigrants, and we need immigration reform.

The two bombers were not born in the United States, but neither were many of the doctors and nurses who saved the lives of the victims. More than one in four doctors in the United States, one in five nursing assistants, and one in eight registered nurses were born outside the United States. I often point out that, when my wife's life was threatened with stage three colon cancer in 2003, her life was saved by a Jewish doctor from the Soviet Union and a Muslim doctor from Pakistan.

The hard work, bravery, and dreams of immigrants, refugees, and asylees have made America a vibrant and prosperous society since its founding. The organization of which I am now President and CEO -- HIAS -- has spent the past 130 years helping immigrants and refugees start new lives in the United States. As a Jewish organization, we have a particular connection to the immigrant experience and celebrate the opportunities immigrants and refugees. More than 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the shadows in this country today. Nearly all of them came to the United States to work in jobs that employers are not able to fill with U.S. citizens or legal immigrants. Because of the failure of Congress to enact legislation to fix our country's outdated and ineffective immigration system, state and local legislatures have enacted their own immigration laws aimed at "attrition through enforcement" -- in other words, making these immigrants' lives so difficult as to force them to leave their homes and communities.

In most states, undocumented immigrants can no longer obtain driver's licenses or car insurance. If pulled over for speeding or a broken headlight, they risk jail and deportation. They are afraid to have any encounters at all with law enforcement. When there is a perception that calling the police may lead to deportation, immigrants and their family members are hesitant to seek protection, report crimes committed against them, or serve as witnesses.

Does this make us safer? No. Rather than making communities more secure, these types of laws drive a wedge between local law enforcement and the communities they are entrusted to protect.

As Senator Chuck Schumer said earlier this week, "We are a safer country when law enforcement knows who was here, has their fingerprints, photos, etc., has conducted background checks and no longer needs to look at needles through haystacks."

The Senate "Gang of Eight" has proposed a sensible and humane solution to enhance security, protect refugees fleeing persecution, bring the 11 million out of the shadows, help immigrants integrate into our society, and open legal channels for immigration to meet the needs of the American economy. Let's hope a common sense approach prevails.