Backed up

The backlog at the federal Immigration Court in Las Vegas grew by more than 80 percent in 2010 -- the third-highest increase in the nation. The court's backlog reached 2,080 cases this year, compared to 1,144 in 2009 and 1,028 in 2008.

Defendants being processed for deportation can now wait as long as 11 months -- the longest delay in the 12 years anyone has been keeping track. Experts say the backlog reflects stepped-up immigration enforcement and a shortage of immigration judges.

Nationwide, the number of immigration cases awaiting resolution reached an all-time high of 261,083 in the just-ended 2010 fiscal year, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse -- a 40 percent growth since 2008.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in late 2008 became one of more than 70 law enforcement agencies nationwide partnering with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under a program which allows specially trained officers at the Clark County Detention Center to identify immigration violators and place "detainers" on them -- allowing them to be held beyond their normal release dates so immigration officials can take custody of them.

Then, in July, ICE brought its Secure Communities program to jails in Clark County -- checking the fingerprints of every individual arrested and booked into custody against both FBI criminal history records and immigration records.

But the North Las Vegas Detention Center has only 150 beds for inmates from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which it rents to ICE for $105.96 per inmate per day. And those beds are usually full, police say.

The risk here should be obvious. Though it apparently hasn't happened yet in Las Vegas, federal officials in some cities in an effort to cut the severe backlog have already begun dismissing more cases against immigrants who have not committed multiple crimes and have lived in the country for years -- a form of "back door amnesty."

We should be allocating a lot more resources to deporting known criminal illegal aliens already in custody. Filling vacant Immigration Court judicial positions in Las Vegas -- and perhaps even adding another -- would be a good start.