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Immigration Checks at Local Jails. What Does this Mean?

According to recent reports, the Obama administration is expanding a program that was initiated by President Bush designed to check the immigration status of virtually any person booked into local jails. This crackdown on illegal immigrants who commit criminal offenses illustrates Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano’s commitment to focus enforcement measures on immigrants who commit criminal offenses, as opposed to those who are merely here in the United States illegally, but are otherwise abiding by the laws of this country.

My three cents…First, the program will unfortunately lead to immigration detention of foreign nationals who commit such grave offenses (said in a sarcastic tone) as speeding or driving without a license. Once arrested on these minor offenses, the local jail will necessarily perform a background check and determine that the person may not have status and then pass along the information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and place the person in removal proceedings. It seems to me that the net is cast far to broad, and the program should focus on serious offenders. This leads me to my second impression…

Second, further implementation of this program will lead to overburdening of the court system – potentially the straw that broke the camel’s back. Currently in the Atlanta, Georgia immigration court, final hearings are set for individuals nearly two years down the road because the court’s dockets are so crowded. If illegal immigrants are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and put in removal proceedings with more frequency, the courts and judges will be overwhelmed, and adjudication of cases – and justice will be delayed.

Third, I think that this helps set the table for comprehensive immigration reform. Clearly President Obama would be unable to garner support for reform without enforcement being a focus. Essentially what Obama is doing is appeasing or gaining the favor of the hesitant, or anti-immigrant folks by sensibly focusing on enforcement prior to initiating a path to legalization. There is simply no way reform would pass without a step up in enforcement and Obama clearly recognizes this. What appears to be a sign that things are getting even tougher for immigrants, in reality this is likely another sign that reform is on the horizon. Stay positive.