Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last week announced a new deportation policy that will give prosecutors and law enforcement officials time to focus on more serious cases.
With the country’s immigration courts overwhelmed, Napolitano said the policy will give prosecutors discretion to drop criminal deportation cases in which an illegal immigrant has no criminal record and is not a threat to national security. Last week, federal officials started combing through 300,000 cases to determine which ones could be dropped.
Republican leaders in Congress, who have blocked immigration reform measures, immediately complained because the policy will allow illegal immigrants whose cases have been dropped to apply for work permits. They see this as an attempt by the Obama administration to work around Congress and provide “amnesty.” The administration’s critics like to make it seem like the president is not serious about immigration, but that’s not the case.
The Obama administration has been tough on immigration, and The New York Times says it has set a modern record for deportations. Through May, more than 1 million people have been deported since President Barack Obama took office — that’s about half of the number of foreigners the Bush administration deported over eight years.
The result of the push to deport illegal immigrants is an overwhelmed court system which can take, on average, 18 months to process a case. There’s also the high cost of jailing, processing and deporting noncriminal illegal immigrants, especially given this era of tight budgets.
Most of the people deported since 2007 have been “noncriminal immigration violators,” according to the Homeland Security Department.
In a letter sent last week to a group of senators, Napolitano said the new policy will allow her department to focus on criminal and national security cases instead of basic immigration violations, which are typically a civil offense.
“Doing otherwise hinders our public safety mission — clogging immigration court dockets and diverting DHS enforcement resources away from individuals who pose a threat to public safety,” she wrote.
The policy will leave illegal immigrants whose cases are dropped in a legal limbo. Despite what Obama’s critics say, there is no amnesty. They can still be detained for immigration violations.
A champion of immigration reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., praised the administration’s new policy and called it a good start. It is a common-sense proposal, but as Reid noted, the real solution has to come from Congress. The law has to be changed.
Reid pushed for the Dream Act, which would have allowed illegal immigrants to apply for legal status, but he couldn’t overcome the opposition of Republicans who don’t want to consider anything beyond deportation. That is a shame considering there are young adults who were brought here as infants illegally and raised here. Under the Republican plan, they would be sent to countries they don’t know.
That makes no sense and serves no good purpose. Of course, given the Republican opposition, there is little chance that immigration reform legislation will make it out of Congress.