Austin: Immigration Reform Should Not Expand Criminalization of Migration

February 19, 2013

Texas Groups Call for Elimination of “Operation Streamline” in Letter Delivered to Texas Senators, Congress Members

Austin, TX – On Wednesday, a coalition of 10 Texas civil rights, faith, and immigrant advocacy organizations will deliver a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Texas Congressional delegation calling for an end to Operation Streamline and the criminalization of migration.  

A press conference announcing the letter will be held on Wednesday, February 20th, at 1pm at the J.J. Pickle Federal Building at 300 E. 8th Street. 

The letter delivery is part of days of action around the country calling on Congress to end Operation Streamline and the criminalization of immigration. Operation Streamline, a little-known enforcement program, is part of broader trend funneling immigrants into the criminal justice system and charging them with felony or misdemeanor crimes for crossing the border.   Senate and House negotiators are reportedly considering expanding funding of Operation Streamline and criminal prosecutions of immigrants.

“Criminalizing migration channels billions of dollars to private prison corporations and is fueling the explosive growth in numbers of Latinos in federal prison,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership.  “It’s time that Congress moved to end Operation Streamline once and for all.”

Operation Streamline, started in 2005 along a 210-mile section of the Texas-Mexico border around Del Rio, Texas, mandates that most immigrants apprehended crossing the border in designated areas are referred for criminal prosecution in the federal justice system. 

Streamline is part of a broader trend of criminally charging immigrants under one of two federal crimes: 8 USC § 1325, unlawful entry of an immigrant, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in custody, or 8 USC § 1326, unlawful re-entry of a deported immigrant, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. In the past, immigrants apprehended crossing the border were dealt with almost exclusively within the civil immigration system.

According to the letter, “These policies are promoting the unnecessary growth of private prisons at a time when crime is down nationwide.  Lucrative contracts for 13 "Criminal Alien Requirement" (CAR) prisons only serve the interests of private prison profiteers, not public safety.”

The private prison industry is one of the biggest beneficiaries of criminal prosecutions of migrants. Lucrative contracts for Bureau of Prisons-contracted "Criminal Alien Requirement" prisons have contributed to record profits for corporations like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America.

“Conditions in CAR facilities are intentionally separate, unequal, and wholly inhumane,” said Krystal Gómez, Policy and Advocacy Counsel for the ACLU of Texas and co-author of Second Class Prisoner, a forthcoming report documenting the results of over 100 interviews with CAR prisoners completed by the ACLU of Texas, an abstract of which was released in September. “Prisoners reported conditions that violate both constitutional protections and human rights norms, such as refusal to diagnose or treat disfiguring and progressive tumors, denial of critical medication to manage chronic diseases like diabetes and epilepsy, and failure to identify and treat dangerous communicable diseases such as tuberculosis which pose significant risk to public health.”

Streamline is one of many immigration enforcement dragnet programs, including Secure Communities, which continue to flood jails and detention centers with those who should not be locked up, including domestic violence and crime victims and people with minor, if any, criminal records.

"With comprehensive immigration reform on the horizon, our lawmakers have an extraordinary opportunity to scrutinize the very serious problems current US immigration policies have, and to do something about it,” said Amelia Ruiz Fischer, Equal Justice Works Fellow and Attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Immigration enforcement programs, such as Secure Communities, have wreaked havoc on the immigrant community, failing in their original promise at the expense of basic civil and human rights.  These programs separate families, destroy communities, drain local resources, and cause immigrants to deeply distrust law enforcement, undermining community safety for all.  Increasing the criminalization of immigration, and keeping the focus of reform on harsh enforcement measures, would do this opportunity a great injustice.”

Signatories to the letter include the ACLU of Texas, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, Grassroots Leadership, Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church, Texans United for Families, Texas Civil Rights Project, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, University Leadership Initiative, UT United Students Against Sweatshops, and Workers Defense Project.

More information on Operation Streamline can be found at www.grassrootsleadership.org/OperationStreamline

View the letter in PDF.

###

 

Contact: 

Bob Libal – Grassroots Leadership, Austin, TX, (512) 971-0487blibal@grassrootsleadership.org