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Editorial: The price we would pay for massive deportations

Rodrigo Osorio (in cap) with his sons (from left) Marco, Eric and Ismael. | Mick Dumke / Sun-Times

Follow @csteditorialsTo understand why President Donald Trump has promised the impossible when he says he will dramatically ramp up deportations of undocumented immigrants, look no further than the overwhelmed Immigration Court on Van Buren Street in downtown Chicago.

The court is strained to the max already, its backlog of deportation cases growing, and the only way to pick up the pace, short of a massive infusion of taxpayers’ money, would be to deny people a fair day in court.

And we’ll assume the president and his team believe in a fair day in court.

EDITORIAL

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Scaling up deportations across the country would be enormously expensive and — if the experience of Chicago’s Immigration Court is representative — often a big waste of time. The great majority of those being pulled into the court are not the dangerous criminals he warned of in his campaign stump speech.

On Jan. 25, Trump signed an executive order saying immigrants who had been merely charged with a crime could be deported, a break from the Obama administration policy of principally going after only immigrants convicted of felonies or at least three misdemeanors. The executive order says Trump intends to “expedite determinations of apprehended individuals’ claims of eligibility to remain in the United States.”

But as Dan Mihalopoulos and Mick Dumke reported in last Sunday’s Sun-Times, the caseload in Chicago’s U.S. Immigration Court already has increased nearly fivefold, from fewer than 4,900 cases in 2007 to more than 23,000 as of August. The time required to resolve a case in the Chicago court, which serves Midwestern states, gets longer every year. It’s now an average of 966 days — more than 2½ years. There already are 400 cases on the docket for the year 2020.

Fr. Jose Landaverde (left) leads a rally and march against immigration detention at Immigration Court Building, 525 W. Van Buren, on May 15, 2012. | John H. White~Sun-Times.
Fr. Jose Landaverde (left) leads a rally and march against immigration detention at Immigration Court Building, 525 W. Van Buren, on May 15, 2012. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

If the number of new cases soars as dramatically, as Trump would like, the wait time for a new case could be longer than it took the Cubs to win another World Series. “Expediting” those cases won’t be easy.

The vast majority of the cases in the immigration courts involve people who are not charged with violent crimes. The authorities are not, by and large, deporting hardened criminals.

Instead, they are trying to sort out knotty cases, such as that of Rodrigo Osorio.

Police stopped Osorio because he was driving a pick-up truck with tinted windows. Previously, he had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor DUI charge after police in suburban Addison found him changing a tire while his blood-alcohol level was over the legal limit. But when he was stopped for the tinted windows, he claimed he had never been arrested for DUI or any other offense. He didn’t have a valid driver’s license.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said he had a record of “multiple misdemeanor convictions.”

There is a fair argument, based on those facts, that that Osorio should be deported. But consider the rest of his story.

Ososrio, 40, a native of Mexico who came to the United States when he was 17, has always held a paying job and has three teenage sons who were born in this country and are U.S. citizens. He has worked as a busboy, dishwasher, cook and golf course landscaper. He now is a welder earning about $500 a week.

It’s worth asking who benefits by Osorio’s being sent back to Mexico. He would have to abandon his three sons or uproot them from the only life and country they have ever known.

On Monday, more than 680 immigrants were swept up in several cities, including Chicago. But that action didn’t seem to reflect expanded targeting. About three-fourths of those arrested were immigrants who had been convicted of crimes ranging from homicide, aggravated sexual abuse and drunken driving and who likely would have been eligible for deportation under Obama administration policies.

It’s easy for Trump to say that it is now federal policy to detain people just on the suspicion that they have violated state or federal law. But the reality is that even now, only 12 percent of Chicago and national deportation cases from 2010 to 2016 involved actual criminal charges.

The lesson here is that deporting many more people would require enormously larger sums of money, get bogged down in bureaucracy nonetheless, and tear apart families that put down roots long ago.

And for what?

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