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Operation Streamline: An expedited prosecution to deportation and incarceration

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Operation Streamline: An expedited prosecution to deportation and incarceration

Celine Reinoso - Copy Editor

Celine Reinoso - Copy Editor

Celine Reinoso - Copy Editor

Celine Reinoso - Copy Editor

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Imagine a cold, modern-designed, brightly-lit, huge courtroom. Now imagine sitting in it with your hands in shackles, in a country you have never been to and everyone around you is speaking a language you cannot understand. And then imagine yourself sitting amongst 75 other people in the exact same situation.

This image is probably something you have never pictured before and will likely never experience in your lifetime. It is, however, exactly what migrants in a federal courthouse in Tucson, Arizona are experiencing, 75 people at the same time, every single day.

This criminal prosecution program is called Operation Streamline. A joint initiative by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice in the U.S., Streamline proceedings prosecute people who have crossed the border at unauthorized areas as criminals. Instead of being sent to immigration court, they are sent to federal court and charged with a criminal misdemeanor or felony, depending on how many times they have crossed the border.

“Culpable,” or guilty in English, is one of the three words the defendant says in response to the judge’s four questions. The other two words are “si” or “no.” The judge addresses groups of people at a time—some groups of 10, some all 75 at once—and dictates a lengthy description of their rights, their charges and their sentences, packed with legal jargon that’s already difficult to comprehend in one’s native language.

I sat at the back of the courtroom, with knowledge of the U.S. judicial system and a foundation of understanding of Streamline, and I still came out with hundreds of questions. I can’t even imagine how the defendants—who were literally walking in the Arizona desert three days prior—were feeling and the thousands of questions they had themselves.

The defendants—the migrants—were clad in the clothes they were likely wearing on their journey. One man was in a green t-shirt and jeans and I wondered if he got cold over the 30-degree nights. Another man wore a black and gray sweatshirt with “NEW YORK” written all over it, and I imagined maybe someone special bought it for him, or if he picked it out for himself. A woman, I assume around my age, in her early 20s, wore a pink long sleeve shirt and leggings, and it pained me to think of her motivation for crossing the desert alone and what dangers she might have experienced along the way.

The entire proceeding is in English, and each migrant is given a headset to hear a Spanish translation. One man, however, had a faulty headset and it was clear from his answers that he did not understand the judge’s brief at the beginning or the questions personally asked of him. It was a tense moment—seeing the confusion and fear on this man’s face and the exasperation and annoyance on the judge’s.

The judge presiding over this hearing chose to have 10 migrants at a time in her courtroom. It was her effort to humanize the people, to be able to look them in the eye when speaking to them, to see their faces and recognize their names. On the judges’ side of the Streamline, they are scheduled for a week straight of daily Streamline proceedings—meaning by the end of the five days, they would have charged 375 people as guilty and either sentenced them to federal prison or deported them back to their home countries. After speaking with the judge after the hearing, I was able to see her genuine attempts to humanize the people coming through her courtroom everyday and understand what capacity for change she has in the judicial system.

I realized that while each judge operates differently and perpetrates different levels of injustice, they are ultimately limited to abiding by and applying the law to cases that come into their courtroom. The judicial branch can make every effort to humanize each defendant, remove their shackles, preserve the dignity or ensure a just trial, but judges are still part of an entirely unjust, discriminatory and inhumane policy enforced by the executive and legislative branches.

Operation Streamline is a disgrace of a policy in our country’s justice system—a country that was founded on freedom and promises it to its descendants. Operation Streamline represents every hypocritical decision made by our government that promotes “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but not for everyone—75 people each day are given exactly the opposite. Operation Streamline robs people of a better life, of an opportunity to prosper, of refuge and safety. Operation Streamline is not the solution to “thousands of illegal border crossings.” It is an unjust, shameful and misinformed approach that treats humans like animals and strips them of any right to justice and dignity. The United States is not protecting people and granting them liberty when it tricks them into an expedited process of criminal prosecution, deportation and incarceration. Our government needs to do better. Our lawmakers need to do better. We need to do better.


2 Responses to “Operation Streamline: An expedited prosecution to deportation and incarceration”

  1. Christian Chellis on March 21st, 2019 3:36 pm

    What an Amazing Article, the Op-ed is just like what I experienced. Being in that Same court rolm, I felt bad for them as they were led and handled like they are not humans, and being shackled I mean, when I see this something tells me they are not following the bill of rights, the Due process is lost. They are involuntairly forced to agree to strip them of their right, the Ametican way. I’m glad I went on that trip with you, you were great, you are awesome.

  2. Janeen Rawson on March 23rd, 2019 10:27 am

    i experienced the same feelings watching from the back of the courtroom in early March. the shackles are reprehensible and, i would think, unnecessary. after all where are those people going to flee to? thank you for writing about this so clearly.

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Operation Streamline: An expedited prosecution to deportation and incarceration