The pragmatic ramifications of enacting draconian immigration laws, especially proposals that would make illegal entry to the United States a felony, would cause a stunning increase in court dockets and incarceration rates. If that law were passed and enforced, the number of people locked up in America, which already has the highest incarceration rate on earth, would make Stalinist Russia look like the Land of the Free by comparison.
An op-ed in the LA Times by criminal defense attorney Charles Linder shows the scope of the dilemma. By turning workers into criminals, we risk turning our already-overloaded criminal justice system into a bloated, out of control behemoth. The most absurd part is, America can't afford courts, jails, prisons and community supervision services now, so what will happen when all these new Border Patrol agents start making thousands more arrests? Wrote Linder:
U.S. District Judge Robert C. Brack puts it another way: "You can add Border Patrol agents, but if you do, you'd better think [downstream]. You'd better think marshals; you'd better think prosecutors, probation and pretrial services officers, defense lawyers, judges and clerk's staff — all of those things." ...Via Bender's Immigration Bulletin
Congress is reluctant to add to the supply of judges by appointing new ones because more judges mean more courthouses, more offices for federal prosecutors and public defenders, more marshals, more clerks and so on — and that is costly.
Most expensively, more illegal immigrant arrests and convictions mean more prisons and staff to run them. The federal Bureau of Prisons operates 106 facilities and 28 urban correction centers for pretrial detainees. It oversees 185,000 prisoners; its 2006 budget is $4.9 billion.
Consider this worst-case scenario: The immigration legislation passed by the House in December would make illegal presence in this country a felony. If just 1% of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants were arrested and convicted under the proposed law, the Bureau of Prisons would be overwhelmed. In the last three years, it added more than 11,000 inmate beds. Imprisoning the new felons would require 110,000 more beds. ...
Tough talk on immigration is cheap. But the politicians who engage in it risk collapsing a judiciary system already overburdened with criminal cases. Creating more criminals hardly seems the answer.