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Judge finds Operation Streamline protesters guilty

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Judge finds Operation Streamline protesters guilty

12 found guilty of public nuisance and obstructing a highway

  • Angelica Moreno Loreto in October 2013, when she and 12 others chained themselves to the tires of two buses carrying immigrants bound for federal court in Tucson.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comAngelica Moreno Loreto in October 2013, when she and 12 others chained themselves to the tires of two buses carrying immigrants bound for federal court in Tucson.

Twelve immigration activists were found guilty Tuesday on two charges relating to their arrests during a 2013 protest that stopped two buses carrying immigrants slated for the federal government's fast-track immigration court known as Operation Streamline. 

Judge Susan Bacal found the group guilty of being a public nuisance and obstructing a highway or thoroughfare, which carries a maximum penalty of four months in jail. 

The activists had been charged with four to seven misdemeanors each, stemming from a protest on Oct. 11, 2013, when they stopped two buses carrying 70 immigrants on their way to the U.S. District Court in Tucson. The group hoped to call attention to a federal program that charges unauthorized immigrants with misdemeanors or felonies for illegal entry and processes them en mass. 

Protesters say the process violates immigrant's civil rights, while federal officials argue that Streamline cuts down on recidivism for illegal entry.

The group stopped the buses on the Interstate 10 frontage road Downtown. They chained themselves to the front wheels in groups of three using a pipe called a "dragon sleeve" to cover their arms, making it nearly impossible for police to break them apart. 

The protest lasted for five hours before police used power tools to cut away the plastic pipes the protestors used to cover their arms.

The protestors were successful in stopping the Streamline court for the day, but most of the 70 immigrants were deported that weekend. 

Police arrested 18 during the protest and 16 were ultimately charged. Two have accepted plea deals, and two more may still face charges. 

During the trial, Judge Susan Bacal dismissed four charges against the group, including hindering prosecution, criminal trespass, obstructing a government order, and disorderly conduct.

Bacal also found the protesters not guilty of resisting arrest, but waited until Tuesday to render her decision on the remaining two charges. 

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for sometime in July. 

A second group of protesters, who chained themselves to the front gate of the Evo A. DeConcini U.S. Courthouse a few blocks away were found guilty in October 2014. They were sentenced to time served by a federal judge. 

In March, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake introduced a new resolution intended to maintain Operation Streamline in the Tucson and Yuma Border Patrol sectors while demanding that the White House remove any direction to "cease prosecuting first time illegal border crossers under Operation Streamline." 

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