Tag Archives: Tucson

Operation Streamline

PC: hrw.org
PC: hrw.org

There has never been a definitive, defining moment in my life where I thought, “Yes, this is it. This is why I want to be a lawyer.” I’ve just always sort of known.

Although we had been prepared for what happens during Operation Streamline, I still felt a familiar feeling of excitement when I entered the courthouse. I find law and the idea of justice to be intriguing because visiting courts is like taking a peak into my future.

When I entered Operation Streamline, however, I felt shame. There were about 60 captured migrants in chains and headphones. They were quiet and they looked scared. Despite how angry I felt when I saw the chained people, that anger didn’t compare to what I felt when I saw their lawyers. They looked carefree and comfortable.  They were standing around casually chatting with each other and laughing while their clients sat alone. These were the people I was supposed to look up to?

Now, the moderator in me has to be fair; I have no idea what the lawyers said to the clients before entering the courtroom. They could have been kind and compassionate, I don’t know. What I do know is that if I were in a new country, surrounded by a language that I didn’t understand and waiting to hear my fate, I wouldn’t want the person who was supposed to be fighting for me to look like they were on a lunch break.

My inner optimist would like to believe that these lawyers are good people. They are defending one of the most vulnerable populations, after all. But  I want the migrants to feel respected. I want the process, despite it’s regularity, to be respectable.

Although the whole Operation Streamline process, not just the attorneys, disturbed me. I don’t want it to scare me away from my chose career path; I want it to inspire me to be better.

I guess you could say that it was my definitive, defining moment.

More to come,

Natalie

Operation Streamline: inefficient and ineffective

Two weeks ago, there was a lot about migration across the U.S.-Mexico border that I was unaware of. After spending two weeks on the border, I understand more, but I realize there is still so much more to learn.

Operation Streamline is one such concept I was ignorant of. Operation Streamline began in 2005 under the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. It requires almost all undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to be prosecuted through the federal justice system.

Last week, we had the opportunity to witness just this. Inside the federal courthouse in Tucson, we sat in the back of the large courtroom, notebooks in hand.

Roughly 70 migrants with handcuffs shackling their wrists, and a chain snaking around their torso, continuing down to their feet. Headphones cupped their ears, as a means for them to hear the Spanish translation of what the judge said. They looked scared, confused. As I watched them, I felt awkward. Knowing if I were a defendant, about to stand up in front of a crowded courtroom to plead guilty, I would be so humiliated and angered to have strangers watching me.

Five at a time, the migrants walked forward to be prosecuted. To each migrant the judge rattled off questions: Do you understand the rights you’re giving up? Yes. How do you plead? Guilty. Do you understand the consequences of pleading guilty? Yes. Are you a U.S. citizen? No. Are you pleading voluntarily and of your own free will? Yes.

In the U.S., each first-time offender is prosecuted for misdemeanor illegal entry and a six-month maximum sentence. Those who have tried crossing previously, are prosecuted with felony reentry and given a two-year maximum sentence, which can be more if the migrant has a criminal record.

I was unaware that this happened at all, and shocked to discover it happens every day of the week. Here were my main takeaways after witnessing Operation Streamline and doing some research.

Operation Streamline:

  • Deters the attention of lawmakers away from fighting violence on the border. Law enforcement must focus on the prosecution of migrants who have entered illegally for the first time. Meanwhile, drug smuggling and human trafficking is occurring at the border.
  • Fails at reducing undocumented immigration. Petty immigration prosecutions are increasing, while the number of migrants attempting to cross the border is declining.
  • Is unconstitutional. Migrants are not given due process. Many defendants don’t receive probable cause determinations within 48 hours of their warrantless arrests, as the Fourth Amendment requires (see attacked article below).

After we walked out of the courtroom, a Magistrate Judge who was off duty followed us out and asked if we wanted to talk about what we had just witnessed. After answering a lot of our questions, it was obvious that he too was frustrated with the current system.

“Everyone wants to be tough on crime. No one talks about being just in crime,” he said.

He encouraged each of us to reach out to our state congressmen, voicing our concern with the process. I hope to do just that, as well as educate others that this injustice is occurring. For a more thorough explanation of Operation Streamline, I strongly encourage you to checkout Berkeley Law School’s review of the system.

Operation: Streamline

I heard the word “culpable” in the US Federal District Court in Tucson, Arizona during the hearings of detained migrants about 35 times yesterday. I would have heard it another 30 times if our group stayed in the courtroom for another fifteen minutes. 30 guilty pleas in 15 minutes may not sound right, but it unfortunately is: the plead of “guilty” was said about every 30 seconds in that courtroom.

Operation: Streamline is an initiative that began in 2005 under the Bush administration in an effort to create a zero tolerance policy against the undocumented crossing over of migrants from Mexico into the U.S. Every migrant who has been detained meets with a lawyer, who strongly encourages them to plead guilty, and has their hearing within one day. These hearings are en masse, where up to 70 migrants are all tried in one courtroom session: rarely do they ever plead innocent. In exchange for their cooperation of pleading guilty, their sentences typically range from 30 to 180 days.

This process with this many individuals happens every weekday in that courtroom, as well as a couple others along the southern states.

The district court that we went to in Tucson, AZ to see Operation: Streamline take place
The district court that we went to in Tucson, AZ to see Operation: Streamline take place

Continue reading Operation: Streamline

Walking in the footsteps of warriors

Yesterday we made our way up to Tucson. We interviewed a lady named Isabel who had quite a lot to say. She was a public attorney for 37 years. After her interview she took us to shrine in a neighborhood and it was a really unique experience. Then we went to IN-N-OUT burger. I’m not going to lie, I think that IN-N-OUT is pretty overrated. Some of us came to the conclusion that it’s over hyped because it’s only in the south.

Shrine in Tucson, Arizona
Shrine in Tucson, Arizona

Later that day Carol, Nichole, and I went to Phoenix to pick up a lady that we are interviewing down in Nogales.  There and back it was 7 hours in a car on top of the 3 hours earlier in the day.  It was a fun car ride though and it was great getting to know everyone better.

Today, after my 5 hours of sleep, we set off to meet a man who took us along a migrant trail. We hiked for about 4 hours and the experience was unreal. He is a part of No More Deaths and they set out water and beans along the migrant trails. The focal point of the journey was a small shrine where migrants who are crossing the border put rosaries and pictures to commemorate and pray.  I couldn’t help myself to just walk in silence the whole time back.  I couldn’t imagine walking those “trails” in 100 plus degree heat while being afraid of someone chasing you.  These migrants are true warriors.  Their strength is incredible and the hearts are filled with faith. This experience is one of my most memorable so far and it’s hard to put into words.

Migrant Shrine
Migrant Shrine

Later this afternoon we met up with Luis Parra, an attorney in Nogales, Arizona. He is currently working on a high profile case that will likely make it to the Supreme Court. The case involves a US border agent fatally shooting a Mexican kid on the Mexico side through the wall. The victims name is Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. Luis took us to the site and explained everything. It was quite a sight to be able to hear from the family’s attorney what happened. I really enjoyed Luis’ company. We talked while we were walking around Nogales, Sonora and we also sat next to each other at dinner.

I just got back from picking Nico up at a Burger King in downtown Nogales.  He went back to Omaha for a wedding and his shuttle from Tucson just arrived in Nogales.  No better way to end the night than picking up my brother man!

Tourist, chef, professional lip singer

For the first time I felt like a tourist today. We did one interview with the director of the Kino Border Initiative and then we were on the road again. We had to drop Nico off at an airport back to Omaha for a wedding and then we went to Saint Xavier missionary.

Saint Xavier Mission Tucson, Arizona
Saint Xavier Mission Tucson, Arizona

It was absolutely beautiful both inside and out. The church was so busy yet so beautiful. The detail and purpose of the art work was unreal. Matthew and I climbed up this really rockey hill to the top where there was this white cross that you could see from miles away.

Cross over the land Tucson, Arizona
Cross over the land Tucson, Arizona

After that we went out to eat and then to another missionary that the Jesuit Kino started. It was really cool being there and seeing how they collaborated, not dominated, the indigenous culture.

To end the night, I was the grill master again. I grilled 17 pieces of chicken. Carol wanted to make Greek salads so three people helped her with that while I was outside. The chicken turned out great! Everyone really enjoyed it and it went great with the salad. While we were cooking we had a blast dancing and singing to songs. Some of my classmates thought I did musicals and plays growing up but I said no. It was so much fun though bonding with Carol and my other classmates.

Check out our snapchat @cubackpack to see some of my interpretive dancing to a Tarzan song and others exceptional dancing/lip singing skills.