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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Operation Streamline tries; does not succeed

    There’s no way to grow up in Arizona without hearing about illegal immigration. It’s talked about everywhere: at the dinner table, in the news, in school. But I was never really taught what happens when people who cross the border illegally get caught.

    It’s known as Operation Streamline. It was created in 2005 by the Bush administration to criminally charge people who cross the border illegally in order to help enforce the “zero tolerance policy.” For first-time offenders, the sentence could be up to six months in jail with a misdemeanor. After their time is served, they’re deported. People who return after deportation could go to jail for up to 20 years.

    Operation Streamline is not working. It denies people basic rights promised by our laws while draining resources that could be better allocated elsewhere.

    Defendants run through the whole trial system in 30 minutes. They are asked if they crossed the border on a certain date and if they want to plead guilty or have their case go to trial. They often don’t understand what they are being asked because of the language barrier. If they plead guilty, and most do because they believe it will get them out of jail sooner, then, as a group of 40 to 80 people, they are brought before a judge for their sentencing.

    They are put through so quickly, they don’t receive the full due process they are owed by the U.S. Constitution. They meet with their lawyers the day they go before a judge. When asked what their lawyer informed them about their rights, 40 percent said they were simply told to sign a deportation form and plead guilty.

    Jason Hannan, a Federal Public Defender who worked within the program, said in an appearance on “Dan Rathers Reports” that he feels like a puppet acting like a lawyer, just filling the role because people are required due process and the right to a lawyer. He says lawyers meet with four to six defendants at a time and only get a few minutes with them before being seen before the judge. While most of the accused are nonviolent, and many have crossed for the first time, their wrists and ankles are shackled the entire time.

    A study by the UA’s Center for Latin American Studies surveyed more than a thousand people who were deported and discovered that 42 percent are their family’s sole provider and 51 percent have family members who are U.S. citizens. With about half having families here, the U.S. is their home — maybe not by law, but in practice. Still, we are treating them like violent criminals, even though most of them aren’t.

    According to a policy brief from the University of California, Berkeley, Operation Streamline is distracting and tying up the courts, so fewer violent crimes are being prosecuted. Prosecutions of those entering the country illegally has increased by tens of thousands over the last decade, while drug prosecutions have decreased and alien smuggling prosecutions have barely increased.

    Not that the system is effective. The UA study found 56 percent of those deported planned on crossing the border again, with 25 percent planning on crossing again within the following week.

    Abraham Acosta, an associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese with research interests in border studies, finds problems with Operation Streamline.

    “Neither, of course, is this change in jurisdiction effective in any way, as people most likely to migrate to the U.S. will not have any advance warning of it,” he said, “nor is it ever effective to convert a mass of unlawful entrants into a class of jailed felons simply for being the former.”

    Hopefully, with a better understanding of the flaws of Operation Streamline, we can create a better program to treat immigration defendants like human beings; we ought to give them the right to due process they deserve instead of dehumanizing them, all while making the time to prosecute actually violent criminals.

    — Maura Higgs is a neuroscience and cognitive science sophomore. Follow her @maurahiggs.

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