Investigative piece takes on Operation Streamline; Expanding program could add 50,000 federal prison beds

Lauren Gambino at the investigative outfit News21.com has authored a terrific piece (“Program Prosecutes Illegal Immigrants Before Deporting Them,” August 2010) on the impact of Operation Streamline on the Arizona court and prison system.

The piece is worth a read in its entirety, but one of the key findings that jumped out at me was the numbers associated with the plan pushed by Senators McCain and Kyl to expand Operation Streamline to full implementation in Arizona.  Costs associated with McCain and Kyl’s plan could “run at minimum into the hundreds of millions of dollars and could have topped $1 billion,” and that

If everyone apprehended at the border in 2009 was put through Streamline, Arizona federal prisons would need an additional 51,000 beds on top of the 4,741 that currently exist. Similar expansions would be required in other states if they, too, fully implement Operation Streamline.

That’s an incredible amount of prison space that would be needed if plans to expand the program succeed, especially for a program that many advocates and federal officials say doesn’t actually deter people from crossing the border.  According to the story:

And U.S. Magistrate Judge Norbert Garney of the U.S. District Court in El Paso says he is seeing the same number of illegal immigrants pass through his courts as always.

“Does it (Streamline) discourage people from crossing the border? Of course it doesn’t,” Garney said. “Ten to 14 days [in jail] is a small price to pay for the opportunity to double, triple or even quadruple your income and start a better life for your family.”

Supervisory Federal Public Defender William Fry said he is representing just as many illegal immigrants as always in the Del Rio Sector of Texas, where Streamline has been in effect the longest.

So, who stands to benefit from this policy?  The private prison industry certainly seems one likely candidate.  Companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America are already bringing hundreds of millions a year on federal detention contracts.