Make ‘Em Plead?

At a time when the backlog of cases before the courts has reached staggering proportions, Republicans on the House immigration working group have come up with a proposal to lengthen judicial waits beyond all imaginable horizons.

According to a Roll Call report, the eight House members (four from each party) devising an immigration legalization bill they hope can win bipartisan support have hit upon a compromise that might make the bill more palatable to the GOP’s nattering nativists. They’d require undocumented immigrants to appear in federal court and plead guilty to breaking U.S. immigration law. The immigrants would then be sentenced to five years probation, to be followed by five more years of hanging around legally, whereupon they could apply for citizenship, which they could achieve in another three years. The waiting period, in other words, would be the same 13 years that the Senate’s own "Gang of Eight" has proposed, but with a guilty plea thrown in for good measure.

I’m not averse to including symbolic gestures that would ease the path to enactment of any bill that offers citizenship to undocumented immigrants. If a plea is what the Republicans insist is required for their support, then let’s have those pleas. Still, we need to be clear on what such a mandate will and won’t accomplish. Starting off with the “won’t,” it’s hard to imagine such a requirement will deter a single immigrant from crossing the border without papers in the future. (“Appear in court and get probation? Sure thing.”) Then, moving to the “will” side of the ledger, isn’t it possible that requiring 11 million people to show up in federal court may just overload our judicial circuits? The actual number of pleaders will probably be less than 11 million, because I assume the law won’t require immigrants who were brought here as children to enter pleas. (Kind of makes a mockery of the judicial process to have someone brought here as an infant to be required to plead guilty, no?) But even if the number of immigrants who must show up is reduced by half, that’s still a lot of people who’ll be lining up at federal courthouses if and when a bill requiring such pleas is enacted. And this at a time when the courts are already swamped, and when Republicans are either taking forever to confirm, or using the filibuster to reject, President Obama’s judicial appointments.

So here’s my own proposed compromise, which I have vetted with absolutely nobody. If the price for a Republican sign-on to immigration reform is to drown the courts in pleading immigrants, Democrats should link that to the GOP agreeing to stop filibustering Obama’s judicial appointees. Okay, I know this plea business comes from the House and judicial confirmations are up to the Senate, but surely the causes of justice for immigrants and an eight-hour day for judges are of sufficient magnitude to engender a cross-Rotunda deal between Republicans. 

You want ‘em to plead? Then give the courts enough judges they can plead to.


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