Only three words are necessary when it comes to Operation Streamline.
Operation Streamline happens every weekday in seven border cities in federal court, lasting around two hours. During those two hours each day, anywhere between 50 and 80 undocumented migrants are sentenced to thirty to 180 days in jail. These are migrants who have recently been apprehended trying to cross our southern border. In Arizona they are detained for a few days in one of the five major detention facilities or, due to overflow, may be housed in military or private prisons. The US government has a contract with these facilities promising that ICE maintain 34,000 immigration detention beds on a daily basis.
Operation Streamline begins in the morning when the private contracted attorneys for the migrants arrive to meet their clients. The US government pays these individuals around 250k annually to play their role in Operation Streamline. There were less than ten attorneys serving the 62 migrants being processed when we visited. Because these attorneys have multiple clients, they only have 20-30 minutes to explain either personally or through a translator what is going to happen, trying to make sure these migrants know United States rights and laws. Each migrant is asked the following questions:
Do you understand the rights you are giving up and the consequences of pleading guilty?
Are you pleading guilty voluntarily and on free will?
Are you a citizen of the United States?
On [date] did you enter the US from Mexico near [city]?
When you entered, did you enter through a designated port of entry?
How do you plead: guilty or not guilty?
Could you fully grasp what was going on, learn these concepts from scratch, and fully answer these questions in less than half an hour?
Operation Streamline “works” because it strikes a “deal.” The US government promises to drop the felony charge of entering the US and instead charges the migrants with misdemeanors, lowering the inevitable sentence. In the one-day we were there, we saw 62 migrants be sentenced to a collective 4,650 days in prison, which will cost almost 750k dollars. This happens five days a week.
There are so many injustices here. The direct link between private prisons and the guaranteed streamlined prisoners is too obvious—just look at how private prison stock jumped November 9th after the election. There is no way that these migrants fully understood what was going on. One woman was just saying “si” and “no” randomly and before the questions were finished (her lawyer did sit her down to “explain” what was going on before admitting that Spanish was her second language. She was sentenced to one month in jail). Though Homeland Security promotes Operation Streamline as a means to securing our border, it does nothing to make our border “safer” besides guaranteeing that these individuals will be barred from ever legally entering the country now that they have a criminal record. What Operation Streamline does ensure is that our private prisons will never be vacant.
What will stick with me is how the judge praised that this same room is used for naturalization ceremonies. We puff out our chests and highlight those with the financial means to pay thousands of dollars and have the luxury of time to go through the “legal” process, a process that takes anywhere from four to ten years to complete and costs thousands of dollars. One man spoke out on his behalf in front of the judge, saying that he doesn’t have either luxuries and had to do what was best for his family. But he was 1 of 62 that day, walked in wearing chains and walked out wearing chains.
There was a half swinging door that the lawyers walked in and out of during Operation Streamline. Some to go get a drink, some to grab their book, some just to stretch their legs. But this door, after each time it was opened, would swing in and out, in and out, the noise seeming to fill the room, threatening to drown out the ambient background noise of 62 children of God in chains, a combination of noises that will forever stay with me.