Guest Column: We need sensible immigration reform; Operation Streamline must end

2013-07-12T00:00:00Z Guest Column: We need sensible immigration reform; Operation Streamline must endA. Bates Butler III and Mo Goldman Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The Senate, under the leadership of the Gang of Eight, last month passed comprehensive immigration reform following years of hope for reform from the millions of undocumented residents in the United States.

Undoubtedly, our antiquated immigration system needs a dramatic overhaul. Yet the current immigration bill that passed the Senate includes enforcement components that would have us double down on failed policing strategies and expand an already bloated border enforcement budget that costs U.S. taxpayers $18 billion annually.

Among others, recent coverage has focused on the doubling of the number of Border Patrol agents as well as the $3.6 billion to expand the use of drones and other surveillance technology along the border. Tucked away in this bill are troubling enforcement efforts targeted specifically at Tucson.

Take for example "Operation Streamline." Through this program 70 immigrants are marched into the DeConcini Federal Courthouse every day in downtown Tucson, and all 70 may be charged and convicted in as little as 30 minutes. In groups of five, through a translator, immigrants - many of whom have lived, worked and raised families here for years - are compelled to accept a prearranged criminal plea. This plea results in a sentence of somewhere between 30 and 180 days in federal prison before deportation.

Operation Streamline costs a minimum of $96 million per year in the Tucson Sector alone. Brought to Tucson in 2008, this program is just one piece of a failed deterrence strategy employed by ICE and the Border Patrol.

Recent evidence from a University of Arizona report, "In the Shadow of the Wall," demonstrates this failure, showing that 58 percent of repatriated migrants will cross the border again, regardless of the legal consequences - a number that jumps to 70 percent for those who consider the U.S. to be their home.

But instead of rethinking the premise that massive incarceration and streamlined due process will end people's desire to reunite with their homes and loved ones, the Senate's immigration bill singles out Tucson by calling for the size of the program to be tripled - from 70 to 210 immigrants processed each day.

Standing to gain immense profits from this planned expansion are companies like Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) and GEO Group. Since 2005 the United States has spent more than $5.5 billion incarcerating undocumented immigrants for immigration-related infractions.

"The main driver for the growth of new beds at the federal level continues to be the detention and incarceration of criminal aliens," said Geo Group CEO George Zoley.

Unsurprisingly, Sen. John McCain, a champion of Operation Streamline, has received $71,000 in campaign contributions from both CCA and GEO Group. Other members of the Gang of Eight who've similarly received contributions include Sen. Chuck Schumer, Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez. In return, CCA receives an estimated $3,458 per month per detainee (compared with the Bureau of Prisons cost of $2,407). CCA also holds the contract for transporting Operation Streamline detainees to and from the DeConcini Federal Courthouse.

Meanwhile, Operation Streamline has perverted our justice system. Due in large measure to this program, immigration-related violations have become the highest prosecuted offenses in the United States, and more than half of those currently sentenced to federal prison are Latino.

Streamline has overwhelmed federal courts, cutting courtroom procedure to a bare minimum and raising serious legal and ethical concerns related to due process, attorney caseloads and adequate and effective assistance of counsel.

The increased enforcement proposed in the bill only furthers the unnecessary and immoral practice of criminalizing immigrant workers. Rather than offering a timely and affordable path to citizenship, what is offered to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the American people is wasteful spending on failed and destructive enforcement practices.

Operation Streamline should be ended immediately. And members of Congress owe it to this country - celebrated for and founded by immigrants - to refocus immigration "reform" on actual reform. Further enforcement through criminalization will only weaken our country, strengthen its divisions and lead to greater desperation on the border.

A. Bates Butler III is a former U.S. attorney, District of Arizona, and Mo Goldman is a trustee of the American Immigration Council.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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