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Operation Streamline: injustice in our justice system

| Thursday, February 18, 2016

The sound of chains rang in our ears. More than 50 migrants stood together in shackles, awaiting their mere 25 seconds in front of a judge who would sentence them to up to 180 days in prison followed by deportation through a process known as Operation Streamline.

Our class witnessed these court proceedings during which groups of five were called up to the podium. During that time they answered three “yes” or “no” questions asking if they knew what they were guilty of and then a final question asking how they plead. It was a factory line with the judge asking the questions and the answers coming in one after the next; “sí, sí, no, culpable.” The same thing over and over again. It was all the men and women in the courtroom said to the judge before their sentencing.

These rapid, mass trials make it impossible for migrants to receive appropriate legal treatment. A mere two percent of Operation Streamline defendants report being informed they could denounce abuses they had been subject to, and only one percent stated the lawyer checked for legal migration options due to family connections. While Streamline certainly doesn’t violate the right to a “speedy” trial, most would argue that these rapid, mass trials do not fulfill the due process guaranteed to all people (not just citizens) by our Constitution.

Beyond asking whether or not Streamline trials are fair, we should ask if they are working. The primary goals of Operation Streamline are to deter unauthorized migration through criminalization and to keep the country safer by locking up potentially dangerous criminals. It has failed in both of these regards. Court records show Streamline has not led to more prosecution of drug traffickers or violent criminals, and most immigrants deported through Streamline will attempt to cross again. Rather than allowing migrants to provide needed labor, taxpayers were charged $1.96 billion to detain them in 2013, an exorbitant price tag to fund an ineffective, immoral and unconstitutional program.

The injustices do not stop with this process itself. After being prosecuted, the migrants need to go somewhere. Because the state prisons have not been able to hold the newly created influx of criminalized migrants, private prisons can feast on these vulnerable people as well as taxpayers, lobbying for and receiving publicly funded contracts worth millions of dollars.

These prisons then proceed to take any money migrants have on their person and act as their banker, keeping this money and wages they earn working prison jobs for less than a dollar per hour. At the end of their stay at the prisons, migrants are given their money back in checks only cashable in the U.S., making it impossible for them to access. This process serves as a legal veil for prisons to essentially steal people’s money. Though $100 may seem trivial, to someone who can barely survive, it’s everything. This might seem like a small detail, but one person who is working to return money by cashing checks has returned $100,000 over one year in one town. Imagine all those who have slipped through the cracks.

Pope Frances said in 2014, “Migrants and refugees should not be pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.” At the very least, migrants deserve to be treated humanely. Regardless of your political views on immigration, Streamline and related migrant detention policies are not only ineffective but clearly violate basic rights guaranteed by our Constitution. Many people who defend U.S. border policy rely on the “illegality” of migrants’ actions for justification. But are these policies actually unjust? Like Martin Luther King Jr. said, don’t we have a moral obligation to challenge unjust laws to make our world a better place?

Matt Alexander

sophomore, Alumni Hall


Steven Jessen-Howard

sophomore, Alumni Hall


Drew Martin

junior, Knott Hall

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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