Immigration Reform a Slow but Steady Process

Immigration Reform

It may seem strange, but some advocates of immigration reform out there are actually optimistic about the future. Maybe they’re just sunny, happy, well-adjusted individuals, maybe they’re completely delusional, or maybe they have some good reason to be optimistic. Positive changes do seem to be happening in the judicial system. This year, in an effort to respond to a staggering 268,000 backlogged immigration cases in U.S. courts, Congress is adding judges and court workers to the system. This is especially surprising and encouraging considering the U.S. is deep into a time period where budget cuts are even making it as far as city courthouses. So far, 38 judges and 90 court workers have been hired to deal with all of these cases.

While this is progress, it is a far cry from the recommendations by the American Bar Association (ABA) that at least 100 judges would be needed to effectively address the problem. Overburdening judges can have disastrous consequences. The repercussions of many immigration cases go far beyond deportation where an illegal immigrant is effectively dropped off in their country of origin and left to fend for themselves. Lives may be at stake. Judge union representative Dana Leigh Marks has said, “The consequences for the people in court are very, very high. They may fear persecution in their homeland. That’s a valid defense to deportation, even if they are in the United States illegally…If we’re wrong it’s almost the equivalent to sentencing someone to death.” In 2009, each immigration judge had about 1500 cases to handle a year, which equates to nine cases a day and less than an hour per case. This leads to judge’s rushing through cases and subjecting themselves to the inability to properly consider an immigrant’s circumstances.

ABA lawyers are weighing in on this news, acknowledging the positive progress but still asking for more. Los Angeles immigration lawyer Judy London said in an interview, “So many things are wrong, it’s hard to know where to start.” And former government immigration lawyer Laura Wytsma made an interesting point regarding immigrant recourse, saying, “There are too many other priorities for the federal government…it’s so far down the totem pole. There are no politicians accountable to this constituency (illegal immigrants). They are not wealthy. They have no voting power. They have none of the things that put any pressures on the powers that be to make change.”

Though progress is being made, it appears this may be the extent of it. The hiring of judges and court personnel to address the backlog of immigration cases is currently frozen, most likely due to budgetary constraints. Not to mention, this positive step fails to address the root of the immigration problem which, it is conceivable that no one can even positively identify. Handling backlogged cases is more about administrative housecleaning and less about dealing with any fundamental issues. And truly comprehensive legislation, with one swoop, could effectively wipe away most of these cases anyway.