Operation Streamline


Crossing the border was once a matter for civil immigration courts. Now, every day in federal criminal courts along the Southwest border, hundreds of mostly destitute Latino and indigenous Latin American migrants are shackled, charged, convicted and sentenced en masse under the policy called “Operation Streamline.” The program has proven to be a boon for private prisons by funneling tens of thousands of immigrants into federal prisons every year. Through research and advocacy, Grassroots Leadership is fighting for and end to this program.

Sign the petition to end Operation Streamline and the prosecution of migrants!


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Apr 26, 2018
Huffington Post

Jeff Sessions Wants To Make The Justice Department More Like ICE

"But others who work within the system see Sessions’ efforts to double down on immigration enforcement as a strain on the limited resources of federal judiciary. The cost to prosecute people whom Border Patrol or ICE would likely deport anyway topped $1 billion annually for incarceration alone, according to a 2012 analysis published by Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots leadership. That figure doesn’t include all the other resources that DOJ has to muster to make these cases happen: judges, public defenders, prosecutors and U.S. Marshals." [node:read-more:link]

Apr 13, 2018
La Opinion

La “cero tolerancia” en la frontera de Estados Unidos no desalentará a quienes huyen por su vida: expertos

"Algo que sí logra este tipo de medida es engrosar las ganancias de cárceles privadas y gastar mucho dinero del erario público, sin que se haya comprobado la efectividad de la medida para detener futura inmigración. Según un estudio del grupo Grassroots Leadership, Operation Streamline ha costado al menos 7,000 millones de dólares desde su origen." [node:read-more:link]

Aug 25, 2017
Houston Chronicle

Streamlined: Trump pressing for mass criminalization of illegal border crossers

DEL RIO - The shackled migrants in orange jumpsuits shuffled into this border town's small federal courtroom one recent morning, each facing a short prison sentence and swift deportation for the federal crime of entering the United States illegally.

In other areas along the border, they might have been simply detained before being quickly removed in an administrative process outside of any courtroom. Perhaps, some would have had a chance to make their case to an immigration judge.

But it was here, in 2005, that frustrated Border Patrol agents developed a program they named Operation Streamline to prosecute all migrants caught within a stretch of the border en masse and channel them into the federal justice system, where the Bureau of Prisons has more resources to hold them for longer before deportation.

So it took U.S. Magistrate Judge Collis White little more than an hour to read all of the 29 shackled defendants their rights, describe their crime of entering without inspection, and then go around the courtroom, inquiring whether they wanted to plead guilty.

Sharing a single defense lawyer, all said they did.


Now, President Donald Trump's administration is expanding this program of dizzyingly fast mass convictions to other federal courts along the border in Arizona, even California, and has, under a new directive from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, ordered U.S. attorneys across America to prioritize such immigration prosecutions.


The expense to the federal courts and Bureau of Prisons of criminalizing what is usually a civil offense is staggering. Detaining migrants on such charges alone costs some $1 billion a year, according to estimates by Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy group in Austin opposing incarceration. [node:read-more:link]

Jul 19, 2017
The Huffington Post

Immigrants Appear Unshackled Before Judge In Arizona After Federal Ruling

TUCSON, Ariz. ― Immigrants facing prosecution for crossing the border illegally appeared before a judge without shackles for the first time in years here Tuesday, after a landmark ruling ordered the federal courts in Arizona to stop routinely restraining people who don’t present a security threat.

The ruling applies to anyone facing federal criminal charges in Arizona. But it disproportionately affects Operation Streamline, an immigration-prosecution program that allows judges to group defendants to speed up hearings for those accused of crossing the border illegally.

Some public defenders and immigrant rights groups viewed the change as a positive, if limited, development. Bob Libal, director of the Texas-based group Grassroots Leadership, told HuffPost: “It makes the process seem less overtly dehumanizing. I think it’s a good thing that people aren’t in shackles, and it’s a terrible thing that we’re prosecuting dozens and dozens of people daily for the crime of coming to the country.”


The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling May 31 that it is unconstitutional to indiscriminately force defendants to appear before a federal judge in shackles. Instead, judges have to decide if each individual defendant poses a security risk that would require restraints.

“A presumptively innocent defendant has the right to be treated with respect and dignity in a public courtroom, not like a bear on a chain,” the opinion reads


It’s unclear how the ruling will affect immigrant prosecutions in the future, according to Cosme Lopez, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona.

“We’re waiting for everything to clear,” Lopez told HuffPost. “We’re taking it one day at a time.”

The U.S. District Court for the state of Arizona has until Friday to respond to last week’s ruling ordering the state to stop routinely shackling defendants. The order may change after it does so. [node:read-more:link]

Learning from the Borderlands

This past week I had the privilege of traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a border delegation through the Young Adult Volunteer program of the Presbyterian Church USA. Though I had lived on the border for a year and know this particular area quite well, I did not know exactly how this trip would turn out. [node:read-more:link]

Aug 23, 2016
Daily Tarheel

NC private prison among 14 impacted by Department of Justice announcement

North Carolina ended its use of private prisons in 2000 after little cost-savings, said Daniel Bowes, an attorney at the Second Chance Initiative at the N.C. Justice Center.
“A lot of the benefits that were touted regarding privatizing prisons just based on the DOJ report haven’t proven to be true,” Bowes said.
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a Texas prison reform group, said Criminal Alien Requirement facility inmates are often convicted of drug or immigration crimes.
“(This decision) will essentially reintegrate the federal prison system,” Libal said.
The decision does not apply to immigration detention facilities contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to a report by Grassroots Leadership, 62 percent of all beds in ICE immigration detention centers are operated by private corporations. [node:read-more:link]
Aug 20, 2016
Arizona Republic

Could for-profit immigrant detention centers, including in Arizona, be next on feds' hit list?

Plans by the Department of Justice to begin phasing out contracts with private prisons is fueling calls from immigrant advocates to also end the use of private immigration detention centers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has in recent years increasingly contracted with private for-profit companies to run a vast network of detention centers to hold immigrants, including the 1,550-bed Eloy Detention Center in Pinal County about 60 miles south of Phoenix.

Critics contend the use of for-profit companies to run immigration detention centers has fueled a trend to hold more people rather than use less expensive alternatives to detention.

"These companies have financial interest in making sure that these detention facilities are full," said Bob Libal,​ executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy group based in Austin, Texas, that opposes private prisons. [node:read-more:link]