By Alan Bean
What is Operation Streamline, you ask. A post from a couple of months ago described our heart-rending encounter with Streamline in a federal courtroom McAllen, Texas. Until 2005, undocumented immigrants detained at the US-Mexico border were simply deported; now they are tried in federal court for the crime of illegal entry. If they have crossed the border more than once, the undocumented can be prosecuted for illegal re-entry, a felony charge carrying a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.
When reformers speak of “crimmigration,” Operation Streamline heads the list of abuses.
Operation Streamline cases are clogging dockets in federal courtrooms along the border, detracting prosecutors from crimes involving massive fraud and violence. But for the poorest members of the Latino community, the consequences of this wrongheaded policy have been devastating.
Recently, Grassroots Leadership, an immigration reform organization, released a report called Operation Streamline: Costs and Consequences that will tell you everything you need to know about the criminalization of immigration. Not only is Operation Streamline ineffective as a deterrent, the report concludes, it is obscenely expensive and socially destructive.
In addition to draining resources and burdening the courts system, Operation Streamline imposes a devastating human cost, especially upon the Latino community. Latinos now represent more than half
of all individuals sentenced to federal prison despite making up only 16% of the total U.S. population. Increased enforcement measures also drive migrants to employ the services of professional smugglers and to attempt crossings in more obscure and dangerous areas. As a result, immigrant fatalities along the border have become increasingly common, reaching totals more than four times those in 1995.
Friends of Justice is designing a narrative campaign that will illuminate the abuses highlighted in the Grassroots Leadership report. Our goal is to humanize and personalize the plight of the men and women who continue to cross and recross the border without documentation. We will be asking who these people are, where do they come from, and why are they willing to repeatedly violate the laws of a sovereign nation? The answers will shake you up.