09/06/2013 11:46 am ET

Operation Streamline Budget Would Triple Under Senate Immigration Bill

The comprehensive immigration bill passed in June by the Senate is a 1,197-page doorstop filled with little-known provisions, like a new policy to encourage Canadian retirees to visit as tourists. Among those provisions, NPR reports, is the tripling of the budget for Operation Streamline, a program that convicts undocumented immigrants en masse for illegal entry and funnels them into the prison system.

The George W. Bush administration inaugurated Operation Streamline in 2005. Arguing that the jail time would deter people from crossing illegally, under the program people caught crossing illegally are convicted of illegal entry and deported after serving time. Prior to Operation Streamline, migrants caught crossing illegally were generally deported immediately or placed in detention centers to await deportation proceedings.

But Thursday’s NPR report questions whether jail time deters illegal crossings:

“Imagine if an American child of yours was living in Mexico. Of course, you'd go to Mexico to be with them,” says Juana Gonzalez. This is not what the U.S. government wants to hear. The whole premise behind Operation Streamline is that punishment deters people from reentering. When the program began in Tucson, the majority of people were charged with first-time crossing.

On a recent day I spent in federal court watching Operation Streamline, almost all of the defendants were charged with crossing twice, three times, even more.

The program has faced protests from Latino activists and immigrant rights advocates who object to criminalizing migrants and raise questions about due process. Critics also contend the program siphons law enforcement resources away from violent criminals and uses taxpayer money to fill jail cells unnecessarily.

Immigration-related crimes make up more than 60 percent of all federal criminal convictions so far this year -- a major shift from a decade ago, when drug violations accounted for the majority of federal convictions.



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