By Samuel Paramore
Immigrant rights activists and allies from Orange County and beyond are gathered in San Diego today to protest against Operation Streamline’s expansion. The program is better known by critics as a legal “assembly line” for migrants caught crossing the border. It’s become a major feature of mass imprisonment and making private prisons a lucrative business. But among judges and attorneys who see border policies as just and humane, Operation Streamline is an inefficient and terrible “deterrent.”
Beginning in 2005 under President George W. Bush, the program sought to speed up a surplus of cases in southern Texas that had consistently been building in the courts. Before Operation Streamline, first-time migrants caught crossing the border were merely deported back, with the offense being civil, not criminal. That all changed when everyone subjected to Operation Streamline faced anywhere from 60 to 120 days behind bars while migrants caught attempting to re-enter with any sort of “criminal history” (which may very have been obtained though Operation Streamline’s sentencing) dealt with the prospects of much more lengthy jail stays.
The Department of Homeland Security believes Operation Streamline works as a deterrent. But the opinion isn’t shared by all. Joel Parris, a defense attorney who’s been handling numerous Operation Streamline court cases, sharply disagreed in a Mother Jones article from last year. “If you read criminological, clinical studies of how people think, deterrence comes much more from the certainty or the probability of getting caught, and much less the gravity of the sentence,” he stated. Point taken. Although, if looking though the lens of this policy being purely cruel, it’s a rousing success. The percentage of migrant deaths while attempting to cross the border has increased 127 percent since Operation Streamline began with migrants traversing far more dangerous terrain, attempting to avoid Border Patrol in fear of imprisonment.
Operation Streamline has also made illegal reentry the most federally charged crime related to immigration. Of course, many federal prisons have been outsourced to private corporations, such as Core Civic and the Geo Group. Among those imprisoned are likely to be people who came to the country seeking asylum from cartels or their country’s own corrupt police, whose cases were unable to be fully understood and handled correctly in the 30-minute period given to attorneys.
The program exploded under the Obama Administration, but tapered back to a focus on those caught re-entering the United States sin papeles. Of course, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanted to reverse course. After over a decade in cites such as Del Rio, Texas and Tuscon, Arizona, a group of delegates from San Diego, where the program seeks to expand to next, sat in a courtroom in Tucson, taking notes on Operation Streamline in action.
Not surprisingly, authorities pay fealty to making the program as humane as possible with the utmost respect for due process. How so? When whole families are sent through the deportation machine and forced into cold cells and frigid conditions, they’ll make it their duty to keep parents and children under the watchful eye of a compassionate prison officer? Defense attorneys are attempting to get five days to prepare for trial instead of one. Prosecutors are looking to charge 30-100 people per day, so even five days is a ludicrous window of preparation.
If Operation Streamline is allowed to continue, migrants in San Diego will be dragged to court in shackles by the thousands, and be forced to take a plea deal that registers them in a criminal system that they’ll never be able to escape from, even once freed from their cells. That potential scenario is why Orange County Immigrant Youth United and other groups like us are in San Diego today helping to fight back.
There’s no better time than now to make Operation Streamline inoperable.