by Chuck Kaufman, National Co-Coordinator, Alliance for Global Justice
Operation Streamline is the “best kept secret” of federal immigration policy according to Tucson, AZ attorney and immigrant rights activist Isabel Garcia. In the early morning of Oct. 11, twelve activists, including me, chained themselves around the front tires of two Border Patrol buses which we stopped on their way to the Federal Courthouse. Holding our lock-down for over four hours, the action forced the cancellation of Operation Streamline court for the day which prevented convictions for most of the 71 migrants shackled in the bus. Eighteen people in the bus action are charged with an Arizona felony “hindering a prosecution” and six other activists who chained themselves to the entrance gate of the federal courthouse face federal misdemeanor charges.
I felt I had to take part in this action because Operation Streamline is a moral blot on the US criminal justice system and our nation’s immigration policies are a blot on our humanity. When officials of all three branches of government violate their oath to protect and defend the Constitution, then people of moral character have no alternative but to act in their place.
Operation Streamline is an extreme example of the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations to criminalize migration. Prior to the Bush Administration, most immigration violations were civil offenses, akin to parking tickets, with the penalty typically limited to deportation. Over the last decade or so, both Republican and Democratic administrations have turned crossing the border without documents into criminal violations complete with jail time. Private prisons such as those owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) have profited and US Presidents can claim they are only targeting “criminals” for deportation. They’re not lying because they have created the new crimes which in turn create the new “criminals.” The Obama Administration has deported more migrants than any administration in US history.
Operation Streamline itself enables the courts to convict and sentence to prison scores of migrants a day by ignoring the guarantee of due process – an inalienable right guaranteed to citizen and non-citizen alike by the US constitution. In the Tucson sector, since 2008, approximately 70 migrants a day, five days a week, are processed as a group. They are led shackled hand and foot in groups of several each. They are charged with both a felony and a misdemeanor and accept a plea bargain which drops the felony but requires them to plead guilty to the misdemeanor. Each one is then sentenced to between 2 weeks and six months, usually for “illegal re-entry.” They are then led out of the courtroom and bussed to a private prison. Upon completion of their sentence they are deported with a criminal conviction on their record and no hope of ever qualifying for legal entry or a path to citizenship regardless of whether their spouses and children are US citizens.
Who are these nefarious criminals that the Obama Administration thinks it is worth billions of taxpayer dollars to imprison and then remove from our country? In Tucson, they are our neighbors. They are the father who leaves home at 5am to work in the mines or construction industry; the mother who sends the kids off to school and then heads out to her domestic, hotel, or food services job. They are criminals only because a crime of illegal re-entry was created to make them criminals.
By shutting down Operation Streamline for just one day, we saved US taxpayers approximately $250,000 in incarceration costs alone based on CCA being paid $129 per day to imprison these undocumented workers. That is about $65 million a year from Tucson alone just for incarceration, which doesn’t include the cost of apprehending our neighbors and the cost of prosecuting them for a crime that wasn’t even a crime until recently!
It is time for all of us to step up the pressure to end the human rights abuses of our government and courts and to demand immigration reform based on international treaties and family values. What can you do?
Support the actions and campaigns of your local immigrant rights and anti-private prison organizations and contribute your time and money to the border organizations at the forefront of the struggle.
Call President Obama at the White House Comment Line – 202-456-1111. Tell him that you demand “not one more deportation until we have immigration laws that protect human rights, prioritize family reunification, and end the militarization of our borders. Tell him that Operation Streamline is an insult to the constitution and must be ended now.
Call or write your elected officials. Tell them you want real immigration reform with respect for human rights and an end to border militarization. Tell them to stop shredding the Constitution with programs such as Operation Streamline and to stop criminalizing migrants. You can find contact information for your Representative at this link and for your Senators at this link.