In November, I traveled to the School of the Americas’ (SOA) Encuentro Watch to learn more about immigration and the demilitarization of the US-Mexico border. Upon arrival, I was picked up from the Tucson airport and driven to US District Court Pro SE Office in Tucson, Arizona. This courthouse is noteworthy, because it is one of the three courts in the country that utilizes Operation Streamline.
Before arriving in Tucson I knew nothing about Operation Streamline, but assumed it was some system to speed-up immigration. Well, I was kind of right, but it is much more about deportation and far worse than I had imagined.
Operation Streamline is a joint effort by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice initiated in 2005 in an effort to impose zero-tolerance immigration enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border. Prior to Operation Streamline, most apprehended undocumented immigrants faced civil deportation proceedings in court while criminal charges were typically reserved for undocumented immigrants with prior criminal records or repeat entrants. Under Operation Streamline, all unauthorized immigrants are charged with criminal violations of the federal law and face prosecution for ‘illegal entry’ or ‘illegal re-entry’.
En Masse Hearings
Under Operation Streamline, defendants are tried in en masse hearings, meaning that up to 80 individuals can be tried simultaneously. Upon apprehension, undocumented immigrants are detained for 1-12 days before their hearing. Typically, defendants receive court-appointed attorneys or public defenders, who represent dozens of defendants at once (sometimes during the same trial). Defendants are not given time prior to their hearing to meet with their attorney. As a result, the defendants have little or no time to understand the charges against them, consider plea offers, or discuss legal relief options. This hinders legitimate claims for immigration relief, such as asylum. Most en masse hearings are condensed into one day.
Due to the rapid and dehumanizing nature of en masse hearings, due process is not observed, and important distinctions are lost or ignored. For example, public defenders have reported being appointed to represent U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, as a result of Operation Streamline.
Once convicted of illegal entry or re-entry, the defendant is sent to a detention center or private prison to serve their jail time, and upon completion of the sentence is deported. With a criminal record, it is extremely difficult to pursue legal entry or immigration options to the United States.
Private prisons have greatly profited from Operation Streamline due to the constant flow of new prisoners. Repeat offenders typically receive a sentence of 30-180 days, with a maximum of 20 years. In Tucson alone, incarceration costs are estimated at $63 billion annually, in addition to the legal costs.
Operation Streamline was created to further deter unauthorized entry into the United States through Mexico. However, there is no statistical evidence indicating that Operation Streamline is correlated with such a decrease. Instead, it has become more dangerous to cross into the U.S., resulting in the loss of many lives.
Many Americans are unaware of Operation Streamline and how it has been used to create a whole new class of people labeled as “criminals,” even though they have not violated any criminal law. While standing outside of the Federal Court in the searing Tucson sun, I listened to the stories of those directly affected by Operation Streamline. These stories had much in common, insofar as they were told by upstanding members of society attempting to take hold of the American Dream, but forcibly removed from the place they call home.
The first step to combat Operation Streamline is knowledge. Americans need to know that their tax dollars are being used to fund the criminalization and deportation of thousands of children, women, and men seeking a better life. We have developed a fact sheet to boil down this issue.
Various faith groups and humanitarian organizations urged former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to shutdown Operation Streamline and continue to pressure Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Join their efforts by calling your legislator or Jeff Sessions to let them know you do not condone Operation Streamline and would like to see it ended.
Here is how you can find and contact your elected officials.
You can contact Jeff Sessions through the DOJ.
If you'd like a more condensed version, we also have a one-page Operation Streamline Factsheet you can share.