Operation Streamline. Even the name is offensive, especially since it corresponds to an assembly-line, government-run, immigration, for-profit incarceration and deportation program. At best, it creates mass show trials, masquerading as judicial procedures. At a time when nonviolent immigrants are supposed to no longer be a priority for the Obama administration, this corporate-friendly operation seems not to have received the memo.
To be sure, justice and streamline should never occur in the same sentence, especially considering that in this case, none of the defendants are there for violent reasons; at worst, illegal entry or reentry.
If ever there was a government program that deserves to be shut down permanently, it is this one. Its very existence shocks the human conscience. It is everything that the justice system is not supposed to be. Its lightening speed offends. It is so reprehensible that many of us who have attended these kangaroo proceedings for years are convinced that they are intended to send out a message, rather than to mete out any kind of justice.
Most of us are convinced that if President Obama and Attorney General Holder were to attend them, they would instantly shut down this operation. And thus, they are hereby invited to attend one of these proceedings that exist in 7 of 8 Southwest border patrol districts. But the one we invite them to is in Tucson, where every day, 70 or so Mexican and Central American brown men, and a few women, are processed daily all at once, charged, convicted, sentenced and shipped off to a private for-profit prison, then deported. The daily proceedings take some 90 minutes (For an in-depth look inside the courtroom, read: Operation Streamline: Expedited Indian Removal).
The operation is so flawed that the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled twice against it, but cosmetic changes aside, the operation continues unimpeded.
Other government programs or practices that shock the human conscience are obvious, such as the widespread spying on civilians, torture and permanent worldwide war. Retaliation against government whistleblowers, destruction of civilian infrastructure as an instrument of war and putting women on trial – legally or socially – for reporting rape, always rank at the top of the list.
Disparate prison sentencing – for any reason – and racial profiling by any of society’s institutions, particularly law enforcement, also belong on the list. The use of local police – particularly rogue police or sheriffs who act like hunter battalions – to enforce immigration laws, and especially to conduct massive sweeps, should also raise red flags everywhere and always.
One of the most reprehensible practices is government collusion with the private sector in permitting corporations to profit from the incarceration and detention of human beings, which is part of a massive trend since 2000. As is said: Ese tren ya se fue (That train has already left the station). For a good overview of this interlocking web of profiteers and their booming industry, read: “The Shadow Prison Industry and its Government Enablers.”
Yet the criminalization of nonviolent migrants and profiting from their subsequent imprisonment has also become a booming business for the corporate sector; it exists on a scale unprecedented in human history.
All of the above violate the social contract that we as human beings enjoy with government, but profiting from the incarceration of human beings seems to be a scheme even beyond the dream of dictators from authoritarian and totalitarian governments.
All of these latter practices come together under Operation Streamline. Its existence is unique, not just in the United States, but to the world. And there is a good reason for that. There isn’t even any pretense of justice – not our opinion, but that of the attorneys who have told us as much. Also, our vocabulary seems to be inadequate to describe this obscene operation. Suffice to say it is both a scheme to criminalize migrants and a scheme to enrich private prison corporations. The Grassroots Leadership organization estimates that the cost of the program may be higher than $400 million per year.
Since Operation Streamline began, the federal government has spent an estimated $5.5 billion for incarceration for unauthorized entry and re-entry, above and beyond the costs for immigration enforcement.
How it was ever given the green light is beyond comprehension. It is certain that the only reason that this operation exists is because the vast majority of Americans have never been inside such a courtroom. No decent human being would ever acquiesce to such a dehumanizing for-profit scheme.
This is why the president and the attorney general need to step inside this operation. Once inside the courtroom, nothing in their legal training will prepare them for what they will witness: a mass of brown prisoners chained from the ankles, waist and wrists, all waiting to be dispensed with. A few minutes consultation with an attorney on the same day does not qualify as adequate counsel. This lighting speed approach permits no deliberation, no contemplation, and no justice. It is mere formality. Most serve from 30 to 180 days in the nearby Correctional Corporation of America private prison.
President Obama and Attorney General Holder should visit Tucson’s Operation Streamline to find out why human rights activists have risked their freedom to bring attention to this scam. As a result of shutting the operation down on Oct 11, by chaining themselves to the federal courthouse entrance and by disabling two buses in the process, 24 of the activists were arrested, with 18 now facing felonies of obstructing prosecution. All understand the severity of the charges.
We should all ask: Why indeed would these activists risk their freedom? Perhaps there are things in life worth going to prison for. Witnessing a spectacle of brown men and women in chains, and others profiting from that, may just be one of those things.
Everyone knows that there is precedent for the president and Mr. Holder changing bad (drug sentencing) policies. They are encouraged to do the right thing. And as the president is fond of saying: Yes We Can! And if that doesn’t work, perhaps “Si Se Puede” will have to once again kick in.