Immigration Reform Should Not Expand Criminalization of Migration

February 19, 2013

Human Rights Groups Call for Elimination of “Operation Streamline” in Days of Action Around Country

This week, groups around the country will be holding press conferences, letter deliveries, and other actions to call on Congress to end Operation Streamline and the criminalization of immigration.

Operation Streamline, a little-known border 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 as part of the comprehensive immigration reform bill being negotiated in Congress.

“These prosecutions channel billions of dollars to private prison corporations and are 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.” 

Cities with actions include:

Tucson, AZ - Tuesday, February 19th, 12:30pm MT.  Press conference announcing End Streamline campaign at downtown Federal Building downtown.  Contact: Caroline Isaacs - 520.623.9141,
Brownsville, TX – Tuesday, February 19th, 2pm CT. Press conference in front of the Reynaldo G. Garza-Filemon B. Vela Federal Court House.  Contact: Astrid Dominguez -
Austin, TX – Wednesday, February 20th, 1pm CT – Press Conference and letter delivery to Texas Senators and Central Texas Congress members.  Federal building at 300 E. 8th St.  Contact – Bob Libal,(512)  
National – Thursday, February 21st, 1pm ET.  ACLU-led phone conference on Operation Streamline and southwest border enforcement. Speakers will also be briefing congressional staff on Operation Streamline during their visit to Washington, D.C.
Online: The National Prison Divestment Campaign will be organizing a petition to members of the Congressional budget committees to shut down Operation Streamline by advocating for removal of funding for immigrant detention and incarceration in private prisons.  Contact – Peter Cervantes-Gautschi,

In the past, immigrants apprehended crossing the border were dealt with almost exclusively within the civil immigration system. Operation Streamline, initiated in 2005 along a 210-mile section of the Texas-Mexico border, 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.

The results of such criminal prosecutions have been dramatic, according to a report issued by Grassroots Leadership in September:
  • Latinos now make up more than half of all those sentenced to federal prison despite making up only 16 percent of the country's population.
  • By 2011, unlawful entry and unlawful re-entry were the two single most prosecuted crimes in the federal judicial system. More than 38,000 migrants were prosecuted under the unlawful entry statute and were sentenced on average to 30 days in jail. And, more than 33,000 migrants were convicted of re-entry with an average sentence of more than a year in federal prison.
  • The federal government now commits over $1.02 billion per year towards sentenced days for the criminal incarceration of migrants. Since 2005, the federal government has spent an estimated $5.5 billion incarcerating undocumented immigrants in the criminal justice system for unauthorized entry and re-entry, above and beyond the civil immigration system.
  • 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.
  • Operation Streamline has created a "judicial emergency" by overwhelming courts along the border. Just five of the nation's 94 federal court districts now handle 41 percent of all federal cases.




Bob Libal – Grassroots Leadership, Austin, TX – (512) 971-0487
Caroline Isaacs – AFSC, Tucson, AZ – (520) 623.9141