Immigration Reality Check

I realize most of the debate over the President’s immigration plan unveiled last week is going to focus on the the issue as to whether the President has the legal authority to unilaterally suspend deportation on the scale that he is proposing. But it’s also important to remember why something needs to be done. We have a huge and growing backlog in immigration cases in this country, and desperately need better guidelines for prosecutors to use in deciding whether to pursue deportation. From an article in the National Law Journal:

There were 421,972 cases pending in the nations 58 immigration courts as of the end of October — an increase of more than 22 percent from around the same time period in 2013, according to data released this week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

… [T]he backlog of cases in immigration courts has been on the rise since the 2006 fiscal year, when there were 168,827 pending cases. In June 2011, John Morton, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the time, issued a memorandum explaining that the agency lacked resources to go after every violation; instead, he said, the government should “prioritize its efforts.”

…Philip Wolgin, a senior policy analyst on the Center for American Progress’ immigration policy team, said the Morton memo didn’t work as planned. The language was “vague,” he said, and didn’t have clear enough directives about when prosecutors should stop pursuing low-priority matters.

“…The biggest problem is when ICE is indiscriminate about who it puts into removal proceedings,” [Peter Asaad, an immigration lawyer and managing director of Immigration Solutions Group in Washington] said. “The whole point here is to make it less indiscriminate.”

This is also important to keep in mind when certain members of Congress talk about using the appropriations process to block the President’s order. Congress doesn’t provide enough funding to deal with the immigration case backlog we already have, so any effort by Congress to block the President by starving the agencies responsible for enforcement is only going to make the problem worse.