Operation Streamline and the Criminalization of Immigrants
When migrants make the journey to come to the United States and are caught by the Border Patrol Agents, their fate is based on a metric called Consequences Delivery System (CSD), which started during the fiscal year 2011.[i] The CDS was designed by the Border Patrol to measure the effectiveness of various consequences for entry into the U.S. without inspection.
Part of the LIBRE trip included attending Operation Streamline sessions at the Federal Courthouse in Tucson, Arizona. Operation Streamline began in 2005 as an initiative of the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to establish “zero-tolerance” immigration enforcement zones along the U.S.-Mexico border. According to No More Deaths, an activist group in Arizona, Operation Streamline costs $120 million annually in court proceedings, as well as more than $50 million in detention and incarceration costs.[ii] The migrants who attempt to cross for the first time and are caught face prosecution for “Illegal Entry” (a misdemeanor) while those caught re-entering face “Illegal Re-entry” felony charges. The time-served sentence can vary between 30 and 180 days but may range up to 20 years with a criminal record. Up to 70 migrants who are processed during one court hearing that lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. Defendants enter the courtroom, often unwashed and wearing the same clothes they were apprehended in[iii], shackled at ankles, waist and hands. They wear headphone for simultaneous interpretation as the court proceedings are held in English. A few minutes prior to the court, the defendants meet with their public defenders or court-appointed contract lawyers. Defense attorneys take on as many as six cases at a time for the same court date.[iv] Groups of eight go approach the judge at the same time. Each is asked a few questions. Is your name___? Where you appended on ___ at the ___ border? Did you enter illegally to the U.S.? How do you plead?
Witnessing Operation Streamline was one of the hardest things we did during the trip. It is a truly gut-wrenching experience and we worked to prepare the students by talking to local activists who explained both the process and their ongoing witness to that process. Given the psychological impact of the process, we told the students that they could choose to opt out of this experience or leave the courtroom at any time. We also created space for students to process in their own ways. Some students called their families, many others processed in silence, sitting quietly or walking around. A number of students responded to Streamline by writing poetry. The following is an example from a student who wrote a poem after Operation Streamline.
[i] Jeffry Odell Korgen and Kevin C. Pyle, Migrant: Stories of Hope and Resilience. The Hope Border Institute and The Kino Border Initiative, 2017).
[ii] No More Deaths, Fact Sheet: Operation Streamline. No More Deaths,).
[iii] Amanda Sakuma, “Operation Streamline: An Immigration Nightmare for Arizona Courts,” Msnbc. June 22, 2014. http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/operation-streamline-immigration-nightmare-arizona-courts.
[iv] Sakuma, “Operation Streamline: An Immigration Nightmare for Arizona Courts,”
Operation Streamline was one of the hardest experiences for us. Some of the participants used poetry to process and share their experiences.
Operation Streamline Poem by Mindy Navarro
3/20 Day 5:
I’m sitting in the back of the William D. Browning Special Proceedings Courtroom to watch hearings.
It’s 1:30pm. It starts.
People who look like me start to walk in the room with chains in their hands & feet.
I hear them.
My heart hurts.
The judge starts the Stream Line process.
I hear the sentences.
My heart hurts more.
Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, & Ecuadorians.
4 women & the rest are men (teens and adults)
About 80 people got their sentence today in Tucson, Arizona.
Minimum of 30 days.
Maximum of 180 days.
The sentences are done.
The judge walks up to us & says:
“This is your government in action”
My heart drops.
Perspective Poem by Vivi Velasquez
In the eye of the US
I know English
I have two legs
I have two arms
I am knowledgeable
Yet because I wasn’t born here. I am not American
I am alone.
People don’t deserve being in chains. No somos animales.
Dogs and cats are roaming freely
Kids are playing, in reach of this border that separates many families from achieving the American Dream