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Operation Streamline Finally on Trial

Activists’ trial for a 2013 protest will put Operation Streamline under scrutiny.

Activists demonstrate in opposition to Operation Streamline in Tuscon, Arizona, October 11, 2013. (Photo: NDLON)

Nothing outside of Tucson’s federal courthouse could prepare one for the peculiar court proceeding known as Operation Streamline.

As one enters the courtroom, on the left side, one sees some 60 to 65 brown men, all handcuffed with wrist, waist and ankle shackles. In the central part of the courtroom, in the front row, there are usually five to six brown women also similarly shackled. In that same section sit “their” attorneys. Whatever it is that these attorneys do in this courtroom, it has little to do with jurisprudence. At best, their presence, like that of the judges, lends “legitimacy” to a lawless proceeding.

The “operation” lasts approximately one hour, everyday at 1:30 pm. Once the farcical proceeding begins, and within an hour, the 70 or so defendants are charged, “tried,” found guilty, sentenced and then sent to a for-profit detention center. Their crime: entering or re-entering the country without proper documentation. Each defendant, by the time of their “trial,” will have spent a few minutes consulting with “their” attorneys. Deliberation, which is supposedly the hallmark of trials in democracies, is completely absent here.

This system is not a “broken” one: It does what it was created to do. Operation Streamline is designed to systematically criminalize and incarcerate large groups of brown migrants, and then deport them to their countries of origin in Mexico and Central America. Operation Streamline also pads the coffers of the for-profit prison industry by reliably sending large numbers of people to private detention centers.

The “operation” isn’t a new one: It was conceived by the George W. Bush administration. Human rights advocates hoped that, with the election of Barack Obama, this operation would be remanded to the trash bin of history. That did not happen. In fact, Operation Streamline has greatly expanded under his watch (from one city in El Rio, Texas, to now a half-dozen cities along the southern border). Unless halted, it is expected to at least triple in size – given the Senate bill that has already passed – if Congress ever passes immigration “reform” legislation.

However, on Monday, March 16, Operation Streamline itself will go on trial in the court of public opinion. A group of anti-Streamline activists will be tried for their civil disobedience against the proceeding, yet, by putting the activists on trial, it is the operation itself that will be exposed for the world to witness.

In 2013, several dozen human rights activists decided to bring the travesty of Operation Streamline to the attention of the world. The action was spectacular. Early in the morning of October 11, 2013, a number of activists were able to stop two buses carrying Streamline defendants from a nearby military base. The activists quickly chained themselves to the tires and thus immobilized the buses. Simultaneously, another group of activists chained themselves to the primary entrance to the courthouse’s parking lot. On that day, Operation Streamline was shut down.

In total, about two-dozen activists were arrested. The six who chained themselves at the courthouse were charged with blocking a federal facility and disturbing the peace, eventually receiving a sentence of “time served.” Thirteen of those who immobilized the buses are set to go to trial on March 16, on charges of obstructing governmental operations, hindering prosecution in the second degree, disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway or public thoroughfare, public nuisance, criminal trespass in the third degree and resisting arrest.

It is possible that the defendants could all be found guilty: They are and have always been prepared to fully face the consequences, especially if they may lead to the shutdown of this extralegal operation.

However, if this trial were a fair one, the jurors would be required to witness Operation Streamline in person. If they saw it in action, they might be tempted to join the struggle to shut it down themselves.

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