Views of Operation Streamline, meant to speed sentencing, deportation process

Published: Dec. 16, 2015 at 10:23 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 11, 2016 at 12:09 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A coalition of immigration activists that wants to end Operation Streamline marched to the Evo DeConcini Federal Courthouse in downtown Tucson in protest of the program.

It's an immigration initiative meant to help speed up the sentencing and deportation of people caught crossing the United States border with Mexico.

Operation Streamline marked its 10th anniversary this week.

It was started under the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice in 2005 to bring a zero-tolerance approach to criminally prosecuting border crossers and deport them.

Immigration activists say the program wastes money and breaks up families.

Protesters printed up $5.5 billion bills, signifying what they say is the cost of Operation Streamline.

They call it a costly failure that was meant to act as a deterrent but that doesn't work.

They claim the operation violates people's rights and ethical rules.

Among the protesters was the son of the man for whom the courthouse was named.

Dino DeConcini spoke of his father, Evo DeConcini.

"He was a man noted universally for his sense of fairness and justice and particularly for less fortunate people. And this travesty to be going on in a building named after him, to me it borders on grotesque," DeConcini said.

Protesters say the "travesty" is a program that nets many border crossers who have lived in the United States for years but who left for any number of reasons and were caught when they tried to return to their families here in the United States without authorization.

"It's a criminalization of people who should be permitted to present themselves at the port and be admitted to our country because they have a right to be here because they're parents of U.S. citizens, because they're spouses of U.S. citizens," community lawyer Margo Cowan said.

Demonstrators said, by prosecuting and deporting people who have a history of family and work in this country, the court is splitting up families forever.

"Once you're processed through here you can never never come back lawfully whether you have U.S. citizen family, you were raised here - any of that doesn't matter," said End Streamline Coalition spokesperson Isabel Garcia.

However, the people who help enforce the law say that's not the issue.

"I understand they have families here and they've planted seeds here, but they've planted them in a land they're not legally at. That's the truth of the matter," said Art Del Cueto, President of Border Patrol Union Local 2544.

The immigrant rights activists said Operation Streamline has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars because it was intended to be a deterrent and it has not worked and because the money goes into the private prison industry.

They said it's an industry that supports lawmakers who in turn create laws that support the industry.

Del Cueto disagreed about the value of Operation Streamline.

He sees it as a valuable tool.

"It does simplify the process. It makes it easier and it is ... less of a burden, you would say, on the taxpayers," Del Cueto said.

Interestingly, both the protesters and the Border Patrol union representative agree this country's immigration system is broken. However, they disagree on what parts need repair.

Tucson News Now reached out to Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake.

Operation Streamline is the most effective program run by DHS at reducing recidivism of illegal border crossers. In fact, the recidivism rate under Operation Streamline is a third of the rate under the Voluntary Return program – 8 percent compared to 31 percent. According to law enforcement experts, jail time is the most important component to discourage repeat illegal migration, especially with first-time border crossers. Unfortunately, it appears that last year, the Obama Administration modified its policies to prohibit Border Patrol from placing first-time border-crossers under Operation Streamline. What the law enforcement community has been doing is working, we just need to make certain the Obama Administration allows them to do their job.

Illegal immigration was vastly reduced in the Yuma sector through the right combination of manpower, technology, and programs like Operation Streamline. Operation Streamline ought to be expanded to other sectors, yet we can't even get the administration to say whether or not they intend to continue the program at all."

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