"It's put an incredible strain (on attorneys). We are still providing effective assistance, but we are burning people out," said Marjorie Meyers, who heads the federal Public Defenders Office in Houston. ...That's exactly right - an immigration policy focused on prosecuting economic refugees makes America less safe. Indeed, the equation of all illegal immigrants with criminal lawbreakers is a debate over formalisms that confuses the real issues affecting public safety. Prosecuting so many immigration cases only drives undocumented workers deeper underground. But the more serious public safety threats occur when enormous segments of the population a) have no legitimate identification, b) have no address or personal information registered with the government, and c) are afraid to contact authorities to report violent criminal or terrorist threats.
Public defenders in Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen handled 8,482 misdemeanor immigration cases in fiscal 2003, another 15,357 in 2004 and 7,199 through August of this year, Meyers said.
The government, Meyers said, is wasting resources on prosecutions of immigrants coming to reunite with family or to seek employment."We're putting our finger in a dike that's going to break, and we're certainly not focused on people who are going to harm our country," Meyers said.
That allows the creation of a criminal class to prey on people who mostly won't report them. Plus, in the event of catastrophe it means the government won't have the first clue how to find everyone or make sure, for example, that flood victims are evacuated and cared for, bomb victims are identified, or infected bioterrorism victims receive treatment before they transmit diseases to others.
The real dangers from illegal immigration stem from the unintended consequences of lack of documentation and integration into the economy and public life. These prosecutions make those problems worse, not better.