I was born and raised under the pines and manzanitas of Nevada City and recently returned here after studying abroad for a semester as a participant in a program called Border Studies. The focus of this program was to study the complex and multifaceted perspectives of immigration in the place-based context of Tucson, Ariz.
Through listening to many voices in Arizona, I have begun to understand some of the downfalls of the comprehensive immigration reform bill being debated in Congress. It is an extremely limited reform, and as is expected, both parties present in the Gang of Eight have made large compromises in order to reach an agreement.
One of these compromises, a proposed three-fold increase in the number of migrants going through Operation Streamline, is unacceptable, as it is a continued violation of the integrity of our justice system and of the due process rights that are afforded to everyone in our country, whether they are citizens or not.
Operation Streamline is one of the latest steps in our government’s long history of increasing border militarization.
In 1996, the Clinton administration changed deportation from a formal expulsion, in which migrants had due process and had to appear before a judge for their case to be decided, into expedited removal, in which Border Patrol took the place of an immigration judge in determining the lawful authority of migrants to be in the United States.
Now, in 2013, hardly any migrants have legitimate access to their due process rights.
While some migrants caught in the desert are deported through expedited removal, others are brought to Operation Streamline, an initiative that criminalizes migrants as an effort to deter migrants from entering or re-entering the United States.
Every day, at the Tucson Federal Courthouse, 70 migrants get tried and convicted in a court process that is shortened from months to one long and haggard business day. Migrants are charged with felonies for illegal re-entry.
The deal, the plea bargain, they are offered is 30 to 180 days in prison if they waive their right to appeal or right to a trial. The court drops the felony charge and any fees in exchange for the migrants giving up their due process rights and pleading guilty by accepting the plea bargain.
Prior to the conviction, migrants only have three hours to meet with a public defender they share with five other people — three hours to understand that their only way out of that court is to plead guilty and receive several months of incarceration and then to be deported, likely to a land they don’t belong to anymore.
They will likely try to come back to the United States again.
Contrary to the government and Border Patrol’s claims, Operation Streamline is not an effective deterrence strategy.
A recent University of Arizona report, “In the Shadow of the Wall,” shows that 58 percent of repatriated migrants will cross the border again, regardless of the legal consequences — a number that jumps to 70 percent for those who consider the U.S. to be their home.
Operation Streamline stands as a civil rights violation in the name of private prison profit. Groups such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group are two companies that have greatly benefited from the $5.5 billion the United States has spent on incarcerating undocumented immigrants since 2005.
Before the immigration reform was going through Congress, Yendi Castillo-Reino, a public defender I met in Tucson, mentioned that numbers in Operation Streamline were going down because of a lack of funding, but that they were likely to go back up again because of the political attention that comprehensive immigration reform bill would bring to the issue.
Yendi was spot on: Operation Streamline has become part of the broader bait of increased border security that Democrats are dangling in exchange for compromise on a path to citizenship.
However, we cannot let Operation Streamline be included in this compromise. Increasing the numbers convicted in Operation Streamline from 70 to 210 will not strengthen our border; it will create further divisions and struggles within our country.
I strongly encourage constituents and citizens to do further research and write to their representatives that they are against the atrocities committed under Operation Streamline.
Anna Daggett lives in Nevada City.