A Grassroots Leadership Report on Operation Streamline

By Nick Braune…

Back in 2005 a very profitable federal policy started up, Operation Streamline — for whom it is profitable would be worth exploring. It was a bad immigration enforcement change.

Historically, there has always been “unauthorized entry” into this country by people leaving poorer countries and looking for work. This is not surprising, this being the famous “nation of immigrants,” for goodness sakes. To be out of sorts with your paperwork, to be “undocumented,” was always a civil offense, a compliance issue, not a criminal offense. But in 2005 that changed considerably with Operation Streamline.

Back in 2005 the Bush crowd, and all their Republican and Democratic Party politician friends, were yelling about illegal immigration hurting the economy and even about “Arab terrorists” sneaking in from Mexico. At that time the “Minutemen” got plenty of press coverage, posing for pictures as they leaned against their pickups. (Minutemen groups were silly and miniscule, but the press liked them, and wacky Lou Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly, the anti-immigrant “populists,” praised their “patriotism.”) In 2005 Representative Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin was pushing his hate bill, HR 4437, which would almost make it a felony to talk to an undocumented worker. It nearly passed. That was the crazy year Operation Streamline started.

During the hoopla and hate climate of 2005, in Del Rio Texas — it’s a small, sleepy town about halfway between Brownsville and El Paso — the Border Patrol announced the new policy, a policy which they now use all along the Mexican border, except in California where there is opposition to it. (The Del Rio Operation Streamline started as a policy toward Central American immigrants, not Mexicans, but courts later felt that was discriminatory and so now Streamline targets Mexicans too.)

The Streamline policy runs undocumented civil offenders into court on criminal charges. Since 2005, many thousands of immigrants have been picked up (their wrists and legs shackled) and “streamlined” before magistrates. These immigrants, in assembly-line justice, immediately plead guilty and then are sent back to Mexico or Central America with a severe warning that they now have a criminal record and that a further pickup will bring surefire time behind bars. (If they hesitate to plead guilty, they are told they must wait in jail until a trial can be arranged. So, they all plead guilty.)

Bob Libal, the Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership, a human rights advocacy group, has coauthored a 27-page report, Operation Streamline: Costs and Consequences, and he forwarded me a copy. The report describes how $5.5 billion has been spent since 2005 “turning undocumented immigrants into federal prison inmates,” and enriching private prison corporations.

The report describes companies like Corrections Corporation of America getting rich through conveyor belt justice, which starts in local court rooms. For instance: “In Laredo, Operation Streamline client volumes are such that a Federal Public Defender must provide counsel to 20 to 75 clients in a span of just two hours. On Mondays, that number is regularly at 75, leaving each defendant less than two minutes to meet with an attorney.”

In Tucson, there used to be a procedure where perhaps 70 people together would all plea together, “guilty.” But a judge ruled that it violated the fine rules of criminal procedure, and now they all say it individually: “Guilty,” “Guilty,” “Guilty.” It sounds like Money, Money, Money for Corrections Corporation of America. The report is available online at grassrootsleadership.org.

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Follow-up. The piece above first appeared in my regular column in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, 9-25-12. In order to publicize the report better, I emailed Bob Libal from Grassroots Leadership and asked him for a quick paragraph highlight of the report for carry-over purposes. He wrote back:

“Our new report explores the impact of Operation Streamline, the immigration enforcement policy that is driving unauthorized border crossers into the criminal justice system instead of the civil immigration system. This policy has overwhelmed border courts, has resulted in a historic shift in prison demographics with Latinos now making up more than 50% of those entering the federal prison system, and has become a $5 billion give-away to private prison interests, all at the expense of tens of thousands of immigrants who are sitting behind bars due to this policy.”

Libal also wanted to remind people in the Rio Grande Valley that because of Streamline, the Criminal Alien Requirement prisons are expanding, and the hated Tent City in Willacy Country (Raymondville) is now one of them.)