We are a group of organizations, community groups, and individuals who are working to end Operation Streamline and the criminalization of migration.
Operation Streamline in Tucson
Every weekday in Tucson, as part of Operation Streamline, groups of migrant men and women are collectively processed for the crime of illegally entering or re-entering the United States. Prior to the court proceedings, the migrants meet with a public defender who explains the charges, describes the offer of a plea agreement, and conveys the migrant’s options. In Tucson, migrants may have 30 minutes of one-on-one time with a lawyer; in other Operation Streamline cities, it may be 10 minutes at best. When the court convenes, migrants appear in court in groups — as many as 70 at a time — all in shackles. Almost all plead guilty and are given criminal prison sentences to be followed by deportation. The prison sentences range from 30 to 180 days.
Criminal Prosecution of Migrants in Operation Streamline
Operation Streamline was launched in Texas in 2005 as a “zero-tolerance” policy against undocumented migrants. Over the next few years it was implemented in severalother border cities, including Tucson in 2008. Prior to Operation Streamline, undocumented migrants usually received civil deportation proceedings for the misdemeanor of Illegal Entry. Migrants were not usually criminally prosecuted unless they were charged with illegal reentry after deportation, or had other criminal offenses. Under Operation Streamline’s “zero tolerance” policy, initiated by the Border Patrol as a “deterrence” strategy, all unauthorized entrants are to be charged with criminal violations of federal law. They face prison sentences and subsequent deportation for both Illegal Entry as well as Illegal Re-entry if they have previously been deported.
Currently, in Tucson, the only migrants adjudicated through Operation Streamline are those who have reentered after deportation. In the Tucson Operation Streamline proceedings, migrants are offered a plea agreement by which the court drops the felony re-entry charge in exchange for the entrant agreeing to serve a prison term for the misdemeanor charge of illegal entry. Migrants are usually encouraged by their lawyers to simply plead guilty and accept the plea agreement in order to remain incarcerated for the shortest amount of time as possible. Almost all agree to this, and thus receive prison sentences of one to six months. However, this leaves them with a criminal record and a bar to future legal immigration.
It should be noted that among those being prosecuted in Operation Streamline are many long-term residents of the U.S. who were deported when their undocumented status was discovered. Most of them were attempting to return to their homes and families when they were apprehended by the Border Patrol. The long-term consequences for Operation Streamline re-entry charges are significant, especially given that the Obama administration has deported more people than any other administration in U.S. History – some 400,000 individuals annually since 2008. Documentation throughout the U.S. and in Arizona show that many of these deportations are for minor traffic stops, such as driving without a license, and racial profiling is a major concern.
Legal basis for criminal prosecution of migrants
- Illegal Entry: Crossing the border as a non-citizen without the permission of an immigration official is a maximum six-month misdemeanor the first time, and a two-year felony after that. (U.S. Code Title 8, Section 1325)
- Illegal Re-Entry: Returning to or being found in the U.S. after having been civilly deported or removed once is a two-year felony. (U.S. Code Title 8, Section 1326) If the re-entering migrant has other offenses, the sentence can be longer, up to 20 years.
Operation Streamline raises serious and troubling questions about constitutionally protected due process, as a result of en masse hearings and limited time with lawyers.
- Operation Streamline costs a minimum of $96 million per year in the Tucson sector alone.
- The US Government is now spending $18 billion per year on “immigration enforcement” – more than all other federal law enforcement combined.
- Most “Streamlined” migrants serve prison sentences in private prisons where it can cost $3,458 per month to incarcerate them (this cost figure is for Corrections Corporation of American). The Bureau of Prison’s cost is $2,407 per month.
- The federal government now commits over $1.02 billion per year towards sentenced days for the criminal incarceration of migrants.
- From the beginning of Operation Streamline to the end of 2012, incarcerating criminalized immigrants has cost a conservatively estimated $5.5 billion in prison contracts to keep otherwise non-criminal migrants — guilty only of illegal entry — locked up.
Burden on Court System
Criminal prosecutions of immigrants for unauthorized entry or reentry have risen 159% since the Operation Streamline’s inception in 2005 and now make up more than half of all federal criminal prosecutions.
Growth of the Private Prison Industry
It costs $3,458 per month to house a “Streamlined” migrant with Corrections Corporation of America, where most Tucson prosecutions end up, as compared to $2,408 per month in a Bureau of Prisons facility. Operation Streamline and the criminalization of migrants have contributed to record profits for corporations like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.
Injustice and Racism
Latinos now make up more than half of all those sentenced to federal prison despite making up only 17% of the country’s population, largely because of immigration prosecutions.
What We Want
- Stop Operation Streamline immediately.
- Abolition of Streamline and no expansion of Streamline in any immigration reform legislation.
- Stop all criminal prosecution of undocumented immigrants.
- End family separation, whether through detention, imprisonment, or deportation.
- A clear and accessible path to citizenship for immigrants.
- Safety in our communities, not the illusion of border “security” that causes fear and harm to families and communities.
- Principled immigration reform that addresses the root causes of migration and does not permit the mass incarceration and private-prison commodification of future immigrants under the false rhetoric of “border security” as a political tradeoff for legalization of our undocumented U.S. community members.
More Information (links are to external sites):
 Williams, Heather E. “Operation Streamline Estimated Costs – FY 2013, Defense Attorney Ethics & Medical Considerations.” February 2013.
 Migration Policy Institute, Press Release, “US Spends More on Immigration Enforcement Than on FBI, DEA, Secret Service & All Other Federal Criminal Law Enforcement Agencies Combined.” January 7, 2013.
**Correction to second video posted above: The estimate of $33 million per month as the cost of prosecution and incarceration of immigrants in federal district court in Tucson includes the costs of both Operation Streamline and other Tucson prosecutions of immigrants for simple migration crimes, not Operation Streamline alone.