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Immigration

Legal, civil rights groups urge a halt to Operation Streamline

Programs that fast-track illegal immigrants through the federal courts are costly, constitutionally questionable and are overburdening courts and should be done away with, civil rights and legal groups said Thursday.

The groups urged that Operation Streamline, which has been in place since 2005, should not be part of any comprehensive immigration reform package.

“The costs to the immigrants themselves, the family members they have in the United States as well as in Mexico, and any potential employers aside, we have to consider that the cost to our taxpayers in making Operation Streamline is absolutely prohibitive and hard to justify in these poor economic times,” said Heather Williams, first assistant federal public defender for Arizona.

Williams joined members of the American Civil Liberties Union, a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops official and a retired judge who were responding to suggestions that Operation Streamline could be expanded as part of immigration reform.

Williams said expanding the program could cost taxpayers more than $1.7 billion annually.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona referred requests for comment on the programs to the Department of Justice in Washington, which did not immediately respond to calls Thursday.

But supporters like Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., have said that programs like Operation Streamline allow for “swift and sure consequences for those who come across” the border illegally.

Flake is a member of the so-called “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of senators who unveiled a framework for comprehensive immigration reform last month. Their plan calls for a secure border before a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants can go into effect.

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Flake said several weeks ago that one way to help achieve more-complete security is by rolling out Operation Streamline programs in more border regions.

Operation Streamline was enacted, in part, to create a deterrent for repeat crossers by charging them with a federal crime on their first arrest. Under the program, immigrants are processed through the court dozens at a time, often entering guilty pleas and being sentenced in the same day.

Vicki Gaubeca, director of the ACLU New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights, has watched such proceedings in several cities across the southern border, including Tucson. She described a scene where up to 80 men and women fill up the jury box and benches normally reserved for the public, and plead guilty one by one.

She called it a “rubber-stamp process, a true masquerade of justice.” She and others charged that the process infringes on the immigrants’ rights to due process.

Tucson became the fourth court to adopt Operation Streamline, in 2008, and from that summer onward Williams said 70 immigrants have been prosecuted every day, five days per week.

James Stiven, a retired U.S. magistrate judge for the Southern District of California, said Operation Streamline programs put extra pressure on courts and attorneys. But they have “no particular deterrent effect” on immigrants, he said: His district did not incorporate Operation Streamline, but still had fewer immigration arrests than the neighboring Arizona district that did.

Kevin Appleby, director of the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, addressed what he called the human cost of Operation Streamline.

“From our view, immigrants who cross the border looking for a job, looking for work or trying to reunite with their families are not criminals and they shouldn’t be treated as criminals,” Appleby said. “It’s an inhumane practice and should be stopped.”

Gaubeca urged Washington lawmakers to think twice before expanding the program as part of any immigration reform package.

“Instead of expanding this program, congressional members should really suspend it and evaluate its true fiscal and human costs,” she said.

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Feb 25, 2013, 10:23 am
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Programs that fast-track illegal immigrants through the federal courts are costly, constitutionally questionable and are overburdening courts and should be done away with, civil rights and legal groups said Thursday.

Ummmm…..is it the program that’s overburdening the court, or is it the influx of border-jumpers? And, since DHS chief Fred Flinstone says that the border is secure and that the border jumper invasion is at an all-time low, what’s the problem anyway?

“The costs to the immigrants themselves, the family members they have in the United States as well blah blah blah

I have a strong feeling that legal immigrants aren’t being inconvenienced by this program, or anything relating to it, in the slightest.

...and benches normally reserved for the public, and plead guilty one by one.

She called it a “rubber-stamp process, a true masquerade of justice.” She and others charged that the process infringes on the immigrants’ rights to due process.

I’m not seeing how. Again, legal immigrants have nothing to worry about. The border jumpers…so they plead guilty. What’s the problem? Is there a gun to their head or something? Sentencing someone on the same day they plead guilty is not uncommon, border jumper or not.

James Stiven, a retired U.S. magistrate judge for the Southern District of California, said Operation Streamline programs put extra pressure on courts and attorneys. But they have “no particular deterrent effect” on immigrants, he said

So, let’s just pretend the border isn’t there, and anyone and everyone who wants to come in can come in…is that what this guy is proposing? Give me a break. What country in the world would allow that?

As to the border being secure, arrests being down, blah blah blah…I refuse to believe anything Fred Flinstone says. I will only believe that when I hear a consensus from the border rancher community. You know, the people on the front lines most affected by the drug trade and economic terrorism, the ones who see it every day and actually can see a real-world estimate of the problem. And, I haven’t heard from them that the border is secure, so I don’t believe it.

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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Immigration rights activist Isabel Garcia, second from left with microphone, spoke at a Tuesday demonstration at Tucson's federal courthouse, urging people to pressure Congress to end Operation Streamline.