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.

To Boldly Rule…

According to The National Law Journal, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright impressively weaved Star Trek references throughout his ruling Monday on a sleazy copyright enforcement case:

Wright riddled Monday’s ruling with Star Trek references, including an epigram quoting Spock from the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” He wrote that, “though Plaintiffs boldly probe the outskirts of law, the only enterprise they resemble is RICO. The federal agency eleven decks up is familiar with their prime directive and will gladly refit them for their next voyage.”

“Plaintiffs have outmaneuvered the legal system,” Wright concluded. “They’ve discovered the nexus of antiquated copyright laws, paralyzing social stigma, and unaffordable defense costs. And they exploit this anomaly by accusing individuals of illegally downloading a single pornographic video. Then they offer to settle — for a sum calculated to be just below the cost of a bare-bones defense. For these individuals, resistance is futile; most reluctantly pay rather than have their names associated with illegally downloading porn.”

According to the judge, it was after the Plaintiffs “engaged their cloak of shell companies and fraud that the Court went to battlestations.” He also referred to one of the lawyers involved as “just a redshirt.” Ouch.

See: Judge Lashes Out at ‘Fraud’ in Porn Infringement Claims.

Can a TFA-Style Program for Lawyers Succeed?

A lawyer version of something like Teach for America is an interesting idea, but it seems to me to be more about addressing the poor employment prospects for graduating law students than about coming up with a long-term solution to the lack of affordable legal services for low- and moderate income people. If the law profession bounces back somewhat (or if the supply of lawyers starts to decline, which is likely), I wonder if enough law school graduates will still find these programs attractive.

Putting aside whatever else you think of Teach for America, if you are a young person interested in a career in education policy, TFA is increasingly becoming a ticket to the cool kids table. Even if you are heading somewhere else in your career post-TFA, there’s a substantial job market value in having TFA experience on  your resume, and I don’t think it’s unfair to say that this is a prime motivator for many of the high achievers coming out college who apply. For something like Lawyers for America or similar programs to succeed long-term, I wonder if they’ll eventually have to build up a similar level of cachet among elites so that even those not considering careers in public interest law or legal services for the poor will see value in the experience. And for those who are considering public interest law or legal services, whether they will actually be able to make a career of it.