Judge Bernardo P. Velasco criticizes Operation Streamline, calls policy “maddening” and ineffective

Last week, the National Catholic Reporter ran an insightful and critical article on the impact of Operation Streamline (“A ‘maddening’ system, from courtrooms to shelters,” July 1st) in Tuscon, Arizona.  The article starts with a typical description of the kind of “justice” provided under Streamline:

Each day at the Evo A. DeConcini U.S. Courthouse here, 70 undocumented migrants are seated in orderly rows, hushed like a quiet congregation in long pews in the low light of a modern courtroom.

On this day Judge Bernardo P. Velasco took little more than a half hour to call rank after rank of migrants to a line of microphones in front of the bench. The script was simple — questions delivered through an interpreter established that the defendants are citizens of other countries, mostly Mexico with a few from Guatemala, and that they knew they could have an individual trial, subpoena and cross-examine witnesses and refuse to testify.

NCR reporter Tom Roberts then gets the opinion of Judge Velacso, who sees Streamline cases like this day in and day out.

Not only does (Velasco) think the process borders on insanity, he makes the point that this endless path to legal futility is expensive — and expanding. He elaborated in a later phone interview:

“The point I make is we’re doing the same thing we did in 1976 when I was a federal public defender and we keep expecting a different result. That’s not realistic. It’s maddening. So we really need to find a way to allow foreign laborers to come in and out of this country with an understanding that if they can move back freely, they can pay taxes and they’ll return home. They won’t be forced to remain in the United States and/or forced to smuggle their families in.”

Velasco told the students he believes most migrants don’t want to live in the United States — they just want to work here.
Meanwhile, the government-funded industry that has evolved to try to keep immigration in check is flourishing. Velasco said when he was a public defender back in the mid-’70s, there were five public defenders, two lifetime-appointed judges, and one magistrate in Tucson.

Today there are five lifetime judges, seven magistrates, 40 public defenders and 60 assistant U.S. attorneys. The cost to prosecute defendants in Operation Streamline averages $10,000 a day and $50,000 a week, said Velasco.

And, that’s just the prosecution costs.  We found in Grassroots Leadership’s report Operation Streamline: Drowning Justice and Draining Dollars along the Rio Grande that Streamline-related detention costs in Texas alone have exceeded $1.2 billion since its inception in 2005.  An expansion of Streamline, called for by Arizona Senators McCain and Kyl amongst others, could cost more than $1 billion in annual court costs and add more than 50,000 new prison beds to the federal detention system.

For a well-articulated moral, economic, and policy critique of Operation Streamline, the National Catholic Reporter‘s full article is well worth a read.