Activists in Arizona called attention on Tuesday to one part of the immigration system they say needs fixing.
Immigrant rights advocates gathered outside the federal courthouse in downtown Tucson to protest Operation Streamline, a program inaugurated in 2005 that prosecutes immigrants who cross illegally with a criminal offense rather than a civil one.
Under Operation Streamline, courts hear dozens of illegal entry cases at a time. The vast majority of offenders plead guilty and get slapped with a six-month prison sentence. A 2010 research paper by the Warren Institute at U.C.-Berkeley dubbed the process “assembly line justice.”
Supporters say prison time acts as a deterrent to those who would attempt to cross illegally again after being deported.
In a press release published by Tucson Weekly, the End Streamline Coalition said:
For many who have witnessed a Streamline hearing, the mere image of men and women shackled at the wrist, belly, and ankles being collectively herded through the legal process is enough to shock the conscience. Streamline raises serious and troubling questions about constitutionally protected due process, the growth of private prisons, the deepening criminalization of migrants and the exploding costs of contemporary immigration enforcement.
“Putting me in chains was just like a shock,” protester Alma Hernandez, who has been detained by immigration authorities, told News 4 Tucson. “My kids were going crazy without their mom… How do you explain to a four-year-old that your mom is not a criminal, that she’s just illegal?”
The program was extended to Tucson in 2005, according to Spanish newswire EFE. It’s one of the jurisdictions that has most enthusiastically embraced Operation Streamline, prosecuting around 70 undocumented immigrants per day, according to the Coalition.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress in May 2011 Tucson accounted for more than half of the 30,000 Operation Streamline prosecutions over the previous year. HuffPost Latino Voices reached out to the Department of Homeland Security for official figures, but did not immediately hear back.
Arizona wasn’t the only place protesting Operation Streamline on Tuesday -- a coalition of immigrant rights activists in Texas also called for an end to the program, saying it strains the justice system and wastes taxpayer money.
“Rather than spend time prosecuting serious crimes including gun and drug trafficking and organized crime, federal lawyers now spend much of their time on misdemeanor illegal entry cases,” Astrid Dominguez, a border rights fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network said, according to the Brownsville Herald. “This means we’re chasing immigrants instead of focusing on chasing serious crimes.”
Dominguez says 200 people from the Rio Grande valley in southern Texas will march in Austin against Operation Streamline on Friday.
The fate of Operation Streamline is unclear as immigration reform discussions move forward in Congress. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who is part of the Gang of 8 that is ironing out a reform proposal, says the program has been effective in parts of his state, according to the Brownsville Herald.