Saturday, September 25, 2010

Operation Streamline

On Thursday, 9/23, Ali, Jacob and I went to Operation Streamline. I took some notes while sitting in the courtroom observing the procedures with the intention to come back to them to write something capturing the experience and making sense of it.

I've tried to make sense of it. I've realized there is little to none to be found, so instead I'll copy my journal from that experience. I think my random, sporadic, initial reactions as a witness in that room will better illustrate the experience than if I were to labour days over this post to really hone in on an explanation of it altogether.

Brief explanation of what is Operation Streamline:

It's a federal program to deter people from immigrating illegally to the states by putting them on a mass trial (about 70 people on trial at once) and giving the person a jailstay and a criminal record. The intention behind it is that the person entering illegally would be so distraught after his 30-90 day jail stay and criminal record he's now received, and the threat of a felony and impossibility to ever enter the US legally if he were to do it again, that he would go and tell all of his peers not to do it as to deter them as well.

There is a smell in this courtroom. It's a mix between blatant hypocrisy and total paralytic fear. It's a hanging reminder of the overall "rotten" idea of the "Operation."

It's a wierd feeling, flood of emotion being in this court room watching these precedings. The actual set up of the room- the wooden witness benches, the leather seats for the jury, the sides for both sets of lawyers, resembles what I learned about in the textbooks in school, and my one and only prior experience in a courtroom. I was so priveleged growing up that my initial experience of a courtroom was playing- participating in Mock Trial. But the real mockery here is what's going on in front of me. "A fair and speedy trial," my ass. The defendants, yes- you read that right- defendants (usually between 40-70), fill the twelve leather seats off to the side for the jury, and the first few rows of the witness benches. Today there are around 50 people sitting in front of me, all on trial at once.
The judge asks the lawyers- "Have you each had sufficient time to meet with your client?"
One of the lawyers didn't even have time to be in the courtroom with his client right now, nevertheless to have spent the appropriate time preparing for the trial. (note- I later learned that as a part of this "operation," the lawyers are given 30 minutes to meet with their client the morning before his/her case.)
Some of the lawyers surrounding me sit shuffling papers, looking important and driven. The lawyer right in front of me, however, is playing a game on his iPhone.
The judge says "I want to make it clear to you the rights you individually have" to the group of 50 on trial, at once.
"Has anyone forced you to plead guilty?" This question got to me every time I heard it. Those on trial had been taught to answer "si" and "no" accordingly- making the precedings seem more like a play, where they're performing some memorized and practiced actions, rather than an actual trial. No one may have forced the hand of any of these men and women to plead guilty, but, coming from three-five days in the desert, being reprimanded, threatened that he will be separated from his family, one is not left with another real option.

The first wave of 6 men completed their "fair and speedy trial," and preceded out of the courtroom- in handcuffs and with chains around their ankles, passing right past my line of sight as they exited the door to the right. The first "offender" to walk out of the courtroom was laughing hysterically. It's like he understood the joke that this process makes of our judicial system.
Another question asked by the judge to each group of 6 as they stood their "individual" trials- "Any legal reasoning why the court shouldn't accept these please of guilty?"- Yes. This isn't how our system is supposed to operate. This isn't a fair trial. I see no jury of peers.
This is disgusting. Me da asco. Right now, I regret my citizenship. I regret that my government is playing this role, and putting on this trial. I don't even understand why this system is in place at all- it is masquerading as something that follows the US court systems and procedures.

It's as far of a cry from the system I learned about in school, and how it's supposed to work, as if the 50 individuals "on trial" here today had been tazed, tortured, ripped of their dignity, and kicked over the border.


  1. STEVIE ~ I share your outrage! It is such a sad thing to be disillusioned by the actions of your country. I find comfort in believing that the great majority of people in this country would also be outraged if they had witnessed what you witnessed. I feel sure you are right where you are supposed to be! Love and hugs to you... Judy

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Judy.

  3. There are several articles out there indicating that Operation Streamline is not having its desired effect. In fact illegal border crossings are on the rise in border towns in which the program operates. What arguments can state governments give in support of continuing the operation?!

    The Supreme Court has ruled that if imprisonment is for six months or less, trial by jury is not required, meaning a state may choose whether or not to permit trial by jury in such cases. The right to trial by jury is exclusively that of the defendant in a criminal case; if a criminal defendant waives trial by jury and chooses a bench trial, the state cannot ask for a jury trial.

    Arizona's trial by jury rights are anything but clear, unfortunately, according to articles Google pulls up.

    It seems like these defendants may have agreed to be tried by the judge (assuming they had the right to a jury alternative).

    That obtaining citizenship is so difficult is unconscionable. Migrants hold many jobs that US citizens just wont take. We're kidding ourselves if we claim "Mexicans are taking our jobs!" It should be easier to work temporarily in the US and it should be easier to become a US citizen. It just makes economic sense.

    On the other hand strong argument against opening the borders and easing citizenship requirements is the resulting increased tax burden that current citizens will have to bear as a result of a large increase in the population of individuals availing themselves of government programs. Unfortunately I don't have the data to describe this impact. If you have a counterargument or data, please share.

    It's a very difficult situation and a frustrating one for people on both sides of the border. I hope you continue to get (safe) firsthand experiences of how these struggles are playing out in Arizona and continue to make such educational posts.

    Praying for your successful efforts