* From Friday May 9th in Tucson
The group had the opportunity to visit a courthouse in Tucson and witness the sentencing process of operation streamline. Basically, operation streamline is used for quick sentencing of returning undocumented migrants, and usually takes place in Arizona, California, and Texas. Migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without proper documentation are considered ‘illegal migrants’ and are usually deported without receiving a criminal record. However, if a migrant crosses a second time they are then labeled criminals according to US immigration law and offered two options: operation streamline or taking the case to trial. Those who accept trial face much harsher sentencing (sometimes 20+ years), while the operation streamline process gives less jail time (those we witnessed usually received 30, 60, and 100 days) and then deportation back to the country they fled. The goal is to create a deterrent effect, making migrants think twice about trying to cross the border again. But does this really create disincentive when many of these people come from unbearably violent situations or are unable to provide for their families?
After observing the court process, our visit with a public criminal defence lawyer in Tucson confirmed that operation streamline causes many problems. He described this process as “McJustice”–a system built for efficiency that ignores individual reasons for migration. Undocumented migrants are not represented individually and do not have the chance to prove their individual case with operation streamline. The immigration judge sees five charged migrants at a time and sentences them based on predetermined regulations. While they do receive individual council explaining their rights and the charges brought against them according to the US system, this preparation process is usually a short 45 minutes (This is a short time to learn a new legal system, etc.).
It is difficult to ignore the business end of things when it comes to detaining undocumented migrants. Privatized prisons in the US receive government funding for detained migrants, and this system creates incentive to increase the number of detained migrants. For me, this causes many questions: Do we understand that we have turned undocumented migrants into commodities? Are we content to deny desperate individuals basic human rights for the sake of economic gain? Have we lost sight of what it means to be a ‘neighbour’?
The lens of criminal justice and national security has framed discussion around migration in the US, but those who continue to make the dangerous journey to the US paint a different picture.