[Marxism] Obama's Operation Streamline

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 11 14:33:15 MST 2014

NY Times, Feb. 11 2014
Split-Second Justice as U.S. Cracks Down on Border Crossers

TUCSON — “My record is 30 minutes,” Magistrate Judge Bernardo P. Velasco 
of Federal District Court here said one afternoon, describing the speed 
with which he had sealed the fates of a batch of 70 migrants caught 
sneaking into the country. Each of the accused had 25 seconds, give or 
take, to hear the charges against him, enter a plea and receive a sentence.

This is a part of the battle against illegal immigration that many 
Americans have never heard of. Known as Operation Streamline, it is the 
core of a federal program that operates in three border states, using 
prosecution and imprisonment as a front-line deterrent to people who try 
to cross the border illegally. It is part of a broader strategy of 
increasing the consequences for people who break immigrations laws.

Unlike the civil immigration courts spread throughout the country, where 
deportation cases are handled as violations of the nation’s 
administrative code, the courts used for Operation Streamline treat 
unauthorized immigrants as criminals and the act of illegally crossing 
the border as a federal crime.

Men and women arrested along the border, the chains around their ankles 
and wrists jingling as they move, are gathered to answer to the same 
charges — illegal entry, a misdemeanor, and illegal re-entry, a felony. 
They have not had an opportunity to bathe since they set off to cross 
the desert; the courtroom has the smell of sweaty clothes left for days 
in a plastic bag. Lined side by side in groups of seven as they face the 
bench, they consistently plead guilty to a lesser charge, which spares 
them longer time behind bars. The immigration charge is often their only 

“As ugly as some people think it is, it’s a bargain for the defendants,” 
Judge Velasco said in an interview in his chambers. “What we do is 
constitutional, it satisfies due process. It may not look good, but it 
does everything the law requires.”

Nonetheless, the mass deportations have led to accusations of 
assembly-line justice. The program began under President George W. Bush, 
but it has grown under President Obama, underscoring the aggressive way 
with which his administration has pursued deportations, which reached 
1.9 million in December, a record for an American president.

In Tucson, the proceedings start promptly at 1:30 p.m. Monday through 
Friday, except for federal holidays, and end whenever the presiding 
judge — there is a different one each week — gets through all the 
defendants, a maximum of 70 here because that is as many as the court’s 
cells can hold. (If Judge Velasco is the fastest, Magistrate Judge 
Charles R. Pyle is known for taking the longest – two hours and 35 
minutes for 70 defendants last week.)

“The whole thing is basically about meeting the minimum requirements so 
as not to violate your rights,” Saúl M. Huerta, a lawyer hired by the 
government at $110 an hour to represent the migrants, said in an interview.

Sentences range from 30 days to six months and are served in federal 
prisons, county jails and private detention centers that operate under 
contract with the government. Keeping the migrants from their families 
and the possibility of jobs to sustain them is one part penalty, one 
part incentive for them not to try to come back. (An illegal re-entry 
conviction carries a maximum of two years in prison, but it can be up to 
20 years if the migrant has been deported before and has an 
aggravated-felony conviction.)

With the House speaker, John A. Boehner, predicting that there will be 
no immigration overhaul legislation this year, Operation Streamline 
seems likely to continue to play a central role in the federal 
government’s border-enforcement strategy. A comprehensive bill approved 
by the Senate last June called for tripling the size of the program in 
the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, where it started in 2008, to 210 
migrants a day from 70 migrants, even if its effectiveness has been 
difficult to prove.

While in its early years the program here included migrants caught 
crossing the border for the first time, almost everyone prosecuted under 
it these days is a repeat offender. For the migrants, reassurance comes 
in the form of a pat in the back or a squeeze on the shoulder from their 
lawyers, who then pump hand sanitizer from one of the dozen bottles 
visible in court.

Last week, at a soup kitchen in Nogales, Mexico, where deported migrants 
gather for breakfast, Efrain Alejandro, 32, who had just served his 
second sentence in two years under Operation Streamline, was already 
plotting his return.

“I have no family left in Mexico,” said Mr. Alejandro, describing his 
surrender to Border Patrol agents after three days lost in the desert, 
abandoned by the smuggler who had been guiding his group. “There’s no 
other option for me.”

An analysis released in May by the Congressional Research Service found 
that the recidivism rate among migrants deported under Operation 
Streamline in fiscal year 2012 was 10 percent, compared with a rate of 
27 percent for migrants who agreed to a voluntary return, thus avoiding 
prosecution. In the previous year, recidivism rates of both deportation 
programs were 12 percent and 29 percent, according to the analysis, 
which was based on fingerprints gathered from migrants apprehended at 
the border.

“This is the hardest evidence we have suggesting that Streamline has had 
more of a deterrent effect than putting people on a bus and sending them 
back to Mexico,” said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on 
Foreign Relations, who has studied the effects of border enforcement on 

But Mr. Alden cautioned: “How strong? It’s impossible at this point to 
tell.” The issue, he said, is the limited amount of statistics the 
federal government has made available.

About 209,000 people were processed under Operation Streamline from 
2005, when the program began in Del Rio, Texas, to the end of fiscal 
year 2012, or about 45 percent of the 463,000 immigration-related 
prosecutions carried out then in the Border Patrol’s Southwestern 
districts, the analysis found.

During this time, apprehensions along the border fell by 61 percent and 
the proportion of migrants deported through some type of court program, 
like Streamline, increased to 86 percent, from 23 percent in 2005.

Stepping up prosecutions is “a fairly standard law-enforcement response 
if there’s a concern about law-breaking and the current measures aren’t 
working,” said David A. Martin, a professor of law at the University of 
Virginia and a former general counsel at the Department of Homeland 
Security who was part of the Obama administration’s push to change 
deportation priorities.

As a result, “illegal re-entry” ranked as the top immigration charge in 
federal district courts over the last five years, according to 
statistics compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a 
research organization at Syracuse University.

In Tucson, 73,900 people were prosecuted under Operation Streamline from 
Jan. 1, 2008 to Dec. 31, statistics from the Mexican consulate here 
show. For its part, the Border Patrol, which collects statistics by 
fiscal year, apprehended approximately 818,000 migrants in the Tucson 
Sector from Oct. 1, 2008 to Sept. 30, 2013.

Ricardo Pineda Albarrán, the Mexican consul here, dispatches a person to 
court each day to track the fate of the defendants, mostly Mexican men, 
and a rotating cast of up to 10 other workers to keep their families 
informed, wherever they are.

“We respect the process; the United States is a sovereign country,” Mr. 
Albarrán said in Spanish. “But compressing a decision about someone’s 
future in a minutes, seconds, when the circumstances of each case are so 
different, has a devastating social and human impact.” And that happens, 
he said, “on both sides of the border.”

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