Our government leaders often ignore elementary rules of ecology and economics when trying to grapple with America’s immigration problems.

Ecology teaches that a system cannot thrive or long function if inputs far outnumber outputs. When rainwater enters the Mississippi in a volume that exceeds the river’s carrying capacity, levees are breached, adjacent lands are flooded, and people are devastated.

Economics teaches that because we live in a world of scarce and finite resources, a more or less functioning system of resource allocation will perforce arise. Not every one of the world’s inhabitants can sport a watch made of gold when this precious metal breaches the $1,500 per ounce price point, as has occurred recently. Thus, some mode of gold-watch allocation (be it capitalism, communism, despotism or another form of wealth transfer) will inevitably surface. The same or a similar system inevitably develops to allocate food, water, clean air and the real necessities of life.

Consider then the interplay of ecology and economics as the Federal Government tries, but mostly fails, to deport foreign citizens whom Congress has declared, in a very long list, are undesirable. The process is broken and dysfunctional because ecology is ignored (many more persons are brought before immigration judges and ordered deported than actually forced to leave) and economics is given short shrift (deportation resources are not targeted to first remove the most dangerous or vile offenders).

Deportation system breakdown, like success, has multiple fathers:

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  • A multitude of reasons to require leaving. The grounds for deportation (or “removal,” as it is technically known) range widely. Included are evildoers (such as terrorists and human predators), economic migrants (if they are without proper papers), and the unlucky or merely careless (the unfortunate, if capable, souls who are fired from a job for which a work visa had been issued; those who’ve unwittingly exceeded their required departure date by even just a day or a week; or, persons whose request for permission to stay longer than initially planned has been denied). 
  • Too many ticket printers. Multiple officials within various units of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) exercise authority to start the deportation process by issuing a Notice to Appear (NTA) at a removal hearing before an immigration judge (IJ). These include the Border Patrol, within Customs and Border Protection (CBP), adjudicators employed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the deportation police at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Surprisingly, with CBP, USCIS and ICE all issuing NTAs, there are no published statistics, by issuing authority, on the numbers or percentage of newly opened immigration cases destined to appear before the immigration courts. This is a case of the left hand, the right hand and the other right hand not knowing what their counterparts are doing.
  • No bouncers. DHS has not established an orderly and intelligently-designed system to determine the integrity and propriety of each NTA that has been issued.  No designated official systematically decides which NTAs should or must be filed with the immigration court, and which ought be held in abeyance or disposed of in one of several non-judicial ways. (Almost every NTA, although styled as a “notice to appear” before a judge, contains no courtroom and date certain for the convening of a removal hearing. Instead, the document states factual allegations and legal grounds for removal and tells the person receiving it that the date and place of hearing will be announced in a future notice.) The system as presently operated requires no formal screening of NTAs to determine whether each is legally justified and sufficiently serious to warrant a hearing before a judge, potential incarceration, appellate review, and actually-enforced removal from this country. Clearly, some NTAs should be rejected. Why schedule an IJ hearing for a more-than-six-months, less-than-a-year overstay who can avoid the blotch of removal and a three-year-bar to reentry by complying with an administrative order of voluntary departure? Why waste an IJ’s time if the obvious resolution is to let time pass and await the individual’s turn in the green-card queue?
  • No ushers. Only a finite number of NTAs can be processed to the point of actually removing the person to his or her country of origin. This is not just an example of the theoretical principle of prosecutorial discretion. It is a rational system of ecological management (refraining from flooding the system beyond its carrying capacity) and economic realism (allocating scarce resources of money, time and energy to process only the most compelling cases for actual removal). 
  • Too few referees with too little power. Without appointing more IJs (and providing other required resources, like courtrooms, detention facilities, interpreters, law clerks, etc.) the over-issuance and over-filing of NTAs with the courts create the reality of assembly-line (in)justice and the illusion that the removal laws are carried out. Either the IJs should be given more authority to terminate proceedings where NTAs are improvidently issued or grounds for relief from removal are best handled outside the immigration courts, or, Congress must allocate sufficient judicial resources to accommodate the flood of NTAs.

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Our federal lawmakers and the Obama Administration need to be told by Progressives, Tea Partiers, frugal independents and traditional partisans that the innumerable NTAs and outstanding but unfulfilled orders of removal flooding our deportation system mock both the duty to make and execute the laws faithfully, and proven principles of ecology and economics. We simply cannot and should not deport everyone for whom a technical ground of deportation can be cited. Some we should allow to stay, because they exemplify our values and their presence enriches us. Others who are really bad must go. A wise polity knows and acts on the difference.