Activists who stymied a day’s immigration proceedings in Tucson earlier this month by chaining themselves to a detainee transport bus have announced the first step in their legal defense: a pair of hotline numbers.
The protesters — 18 of whom now face a possible felony charge of hindering prosecution — held a news conference Thursday because they hope to locate each of the 70 detainees believed to be aboard the buses they stopped Oct. 11.
Activists seek to record the detainees’ testimonies to bolster their defense. They also plan to use the accounts to advance their political campaign against Operation Streamline, a fast-track prosecution program created to discourage migration by giving prison sentences and a criminal record to those apprehended at the border.
Up to 70 people are processed each day through the program in Tucson. Most are charged with the misdemeanor of illegal entry and the felony of illegal re-entry, and they plead down to the lesser charge, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison. The entire proceeding takes place in a single day.
Activists lament the effects the program has had on families, many of which have members of different legal statuses.
Paula Miller, an activist who works at Casa Mariposa, a home that helps those coming out of immigration detention, cites the personal stories of migrants for spurring her to protest.
“I heard the stories of so many families separated,” she said. “It’s something I think we all can relate to. At some point, you have to say enough.”
The U.S. hotline is 888-203-7377. The Mexico
hotline is 800-099-0425.
The charges the protesters face are still in initial stages and represent the recommendation of police.
The allegations against the 18 are expected to go before a grand jury by Oct. 31, said Margo Cowan, a migrant-rights activist and public defender representing some of the protesters.
A decision on prosecution has not been made and the case is under review, a spokeswoman for the Pima County Attorney’s Office said Thursday.
The Federal Protective Service, which provides security for federal buildings, detained six other protesters Oct. 11.
They were cited with disorderly conduct on federal property and released the same day.
The service would release no further details. and a Washington, D.C., spokeswoman for the agency declined to comment on the record.
Activists protesting Operation Streamline in other cities, including Phoenix, have also been cited and released by Federal Protective Service officers.
Most of the detainees on the buses stopped in Tucson have since been deported without being criminally prosecuted, officials said.
Up to nine were prosecuted through Operation Streamline the Monday after the protest.