Wednesday, July 6, 2011 | 2 a.m.
The federal immigration court in Las Vegas is swamped. The caseload has more than doubled since May 2009, and that has created a tremendous backlog of cases, as the Las Vegas Sun’s Karoun Demirjian reported this week. In May 2009, it took about 6 1/2 months on average for a case to be resolved. Two years later, it took 9 1/2 months.
Las Vegas isn’t alone in seeing higher caseloads. Immigration courts across the country have been flooded, a spike that has been attributed to the Obama administration’s increased enforcement efforts and issues with judicial staffing.
The situation in the courts is only a symptom of the larger problem with the nation’s immigration policy. That’s no secret — Congress has been confronted with that issue time and again. Republican leaders have blocked any progress by taking a hard-line approach: They have refused to discuss any serious reforms to the law until, they say, the nation’s borders are secure. They have pushed for more fences along the Mexican border and more enforcement, meaning jailing and deporting people.
Such a position has been inflamed by the anti-illegal immigration crowd that wrongly claims that illegal immigration has led to higher unemployment, a drastic increase in crime and billions of dollars in costs to the government. That is not the consensus of the credible research on the issue, which suggests that any negative effect caused by illegal immigrants is relatively modest. As the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and others have noted, that includes the cost to the government because — despite popular belief — illegal immigrants pay a variety of taxes.
The vitriol over the issue is baffling, and the fixation with the Mexican border is simplistic. A recent report to Congress suggested that about half of those people came here legally but overstayed their visas.
Illegal immigration is far more complex than Republican leaders in Congress have made it out to be. Certainly, the nation needs to secure its borders and enforce its laws, but Congress should be able to do that and fix its broken immigration law.
The way the country has approached immigration has been shameful. Consider the many stories about children who were brought to the United States illegally as infants to grow up here and then, as they reach adulthood, face deportation to a country foreign to them. Punishing the children for the sins of the parents doesn’t seem to be American, yet there are people who clamor for such action because it’s “the law.”
Democrats have proposed changing the law with the Dream Act, legislation that would revamp the nation’s policy and give people here illegally a way to gain legal status. The bill has been derailed by many false accusations, including that it would provide “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.
Ironically, the Republican “solution” is to throw more money at building larger walls and deporting more people. But years of doing that hasn’t solved the problem.
It is time for Congress to have an open and honest debate on the issue and fix the problem.