ARIZONA REPUBLIC: Op-Ed: Operation Streamline is costly (and it doesn’t work)
October 17, 2014
By Dino Deconcini, Isabel Garcia and David Wolf, As We See It
Arizona’s senators recently sent a highly publicized letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that suggests they misunderstand Operation Streamline, a costly, ineffective and unjust program of en masse prosecution of immigrants who have crossed the border without documents.
In Arizona’s version of Operation Streamline, groups of up to 70 people in Tucson and 28 in Yuma are shackled at the hands, waist and feet before being brought into court for a single en masse hearing lasting two hours or less.
All are advised of their charges, waive their constitutional rights, plead guilty to entering at a place other than a port of entry, and are sentenced to up to 180 days in federal prison. Many serve this time in private prisons run for profit by well-connected corporations.
The U.S. Border Patrol calls this a “consequence delivery system,” but Chief U.S. Pretrial Services Officer David Martin more accurately labeled it a “well-oiled machine.”
For decades, the U.S. government deported or returned undocumented border-crossers through the civil system. However, criminal prosecutions have climbed since 1996. Last year, 97,384 people — over 55 percent of all defendants prosecuted and facing incarceration in federal courts nationwide — were prosecuted for immigration-related offenses. According to a 2012 report by Martin, such offenses comprised 81 percent of charges brought in the district of Arizona in 2011.
The “universal agreement” cited by the senators that putative deterrents such as Operation Streamline reduce migration rates does not exist. According to a 2010 National Immigration Forum report, changes in undocumented-migration rates more closely track U.S. economic cycles than enforcement.
In the 2013 report “In the Shadow of the Wall,” researchers from the University of Arizona and George Washington University found that the majority of migrants intended to cross again, that the effect of deterrence was difficult to measure, and that deterrence has a limited impact compared with other factors such as family and economic need.
The reason migration on the southern border is currently at its lowest point in over four decades is not Operation Streamline, but the economic downturn in the United States.
The costs of this ineffective program are staggering. According to a 2012 Grassroots Leadership report, since 2005, when Operation Streamline began, the federal government has spent an estimated $5.5 billion incarcerating undocumented immigrants in the criminal-justice system. Much of this money is funneled to private-prison corporations, the two largest of which are Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group.
From 2005 to 2011, GEO Group’s annual federal contract revenue skyrocketed from $138.8 million to $640 million, while CCA’s rose from $465 million to $749 million. According to figures from the U.S. Marshals Office, Operation Streamline in Tucson alone costs at least $372 million per year.
The costs to the human beings incarcerated are incalculable — separation from their families, loss of their property, physical and emotional abuse, and subjection to a proceeding that strips everyone involved of dignity.
Operation Streamline is a shame to the criminal-justice system.
Dino J. DeConcini is a former Tucson city attorney, chief of staff for Gov. Raúl Castro and director of the U.S. Savings Bonds program. Isabel G. Garcia is a lawyer and a founder and board member of Coalición de Derechos Humanos in Tucson. David R. Wolf is a lawyer and a member of the End Streamline Coalition.
Leslie Carlson, coordinator of the End Streamline Coalition in Tucson, and John M. Fife, a co-founder of the Sanctuary movement and the retired pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, also contributed to this column.