Grinding Justice

Operation Streamline costs millions, tramples the Constitution, treats migrants like cattle, doesn't work

In addition, the $600 million supplemental border-security package recently signed by Obama will add 1,000 Border Patrol agents and 500 customs officers to the southwest border. They will be assisted by the 1,200 National Guard troops deployed by the Obama administration to the region. Nearly half of the troops will be stationed in Arizona.

Also, private prisons profit off the creation of newly minted "criminal aliens," with the U.S. Marshal for Arizona now shelling out $13 million per month—potentially $156 million per year—to CCA to hold federal prisoners in Florence, Arizona.

Anyone visiting Tucson will see the ubiquitous Wackenhut buses ferrying undocumented immigrants to and from the federal courthouse. The Border Patrol has contracted with the global security firm Wackenhut/G4S since 2006 to provide transportation for the migrants the Border Patrol captures.

Brian Stauffer
A bus for private prisons giant Corrections Corporation of America picks up migrants sentenced to time in custody by a Tuscon magistrate
Stephen Lemons
A bus for private prisons giant Corrections Corporation of America picks up migrants sentenced to time in custody by a Tuscon magistrate

According to Wackenhut/G4S's website, it employs more than 600 "officers" operating more than 100 buses and vans along the U.S.-Mexico Border. The current CBP-Wackenhut contract is worth about $76 million per year.

It's not just the "prison industrial complex" (as some immigrant-rights activists refer to it) that benefits. It's the economies of the cities where Streamline is active.

"It's a job stimulus," says Velasco. "It's tremendous for employment for law enforcement, lawyers, marshals, private citizens running private prisons. These policies generate a lot of money. There's a lot of people living well on the war on drugs and aliens."

Other than the money to be made and the jobs boon from Streamline, there's another calculus to bear in mind: the human suffering of otherwise ordinary people labeled and processed as common criminals.

"This is the least-known part of the militarization of the border," says Pima County legal defender Isabel Garcia, a pro-immigrant firebrand well-known from her appearances on CNN.

"Somebody's making money," she adds. "That's what I believe this is all about. But, secondly, right with it is to criminalize people. Criminalize in the real sense of the word . . . When you criminalize it with a case, [immigrants] will not be able to come back to the U.S. [legally]."

That criminalization is brought full-circle when deportees are dropped off at the DeConcini port of entry, the main gateway between the U.S. and Mexican sides of Nogales.

The port is the namesake of former U.S. Senator from Arizona Dennis DeConcini, son of the late Arizona Supreme Court Justice Evo DeConcini, whom the Tucson courthouse is named after.

Ironically, Dennis DeConcini is on the board of directors of CCA, which owes part of its vast wealth to the Streamline hearings in Tucson.

From the DeConcini port, or the Mariposa port of entry on the other side of town, migrants make their way to one of a network of private and governmental social-service agencies, where they can get fed, find a place to stay and catch a cheap bus back to their hometowns.

Spouses caught together on the U.S. side often are separated during the Streamline process. At the Grupos Beta aid station in Nogales, husbands look for wives, wives seek husbands.

Their search may be made more difficult because many immigrants do not get their possessions back from the Border Patrol, which confiscates personal property upon arrest. Such personal property could include money, vital identification, cell phones, and contact numbers and addresses of loved ones.

Also, people are sometimes dropped off at ports far from where they crossed, even in different states\. And the Border Patrol has partnered in the past with other federal agencies to repatriate some migrants by flying them by the planeload to Mexico City, far from the border. That program costs the United States $15 million per year.

In Tucson, there have been instances of wives in Streamline court asking for more time so they can be released the same day as their husbands. Magistrates sometimes reluctantly grant such requests.

On one hot Saturday afternoon at the Grupos Beta station, a slight young man on the verge of tears comes forward to relate his Streamline experience.

The man had been crossing with his wife, who was five months pregnant, when they were both arrested by the Border Patrol. They'd been heading for Salinas, where they'd hoped to find work in the fields.

He saw her after their capture, but they were separated when he went to court before Velasco, who gave him time served after he pleaded guilty to illegal entry. He had no idea where his wife was, whether she was safe, or whether their first child together was still well in her womb.

After court, the man asked Border Patrol agents what happened to his wife. All they would tell him was that she had already left.

He has a photo of his wife, a pretty woman with indigenous features. No one at Grupos Beta has seen her yet. He says they're both from Oaxaca. He seems utterly helpless, distraught.

Complicating matters is the fact his wife gave the Border Patrol a different name. The Tucson-based human-rights group Derechos Humanos later attempted to locate her, with no luck.

And by that time, they had lost contact with the husband, as well.

Chalk up two more lives upended in the pitiless mechanism known as Streamline.

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