This is my second time going to this court proceeding. I don’t think I will ever forget either one.
Operation Streamline occurs five days a week, 52 weeks of the year in Tucson at the federal court house. 70 migrants a day who have been picked up within the last few days are tried for illegal reentry and illegal border crossing. The former is a felony and the latter a misdemeanor. The judges have no leniency, the sentence increases based on the number of times they have been apprehended.
That right there should tell you it is not effective. If it was effective the mandatory sentence wouldn’t need to increase. But it does. From one month to six. To, as I understand from one trial today, unless I was mistaken in what I was hearing, the defendant is unable to plead guilty and agree to a plea deal and must proceed to court to be charged with the felony, which carries a sentence of two to twenty years and a fine of up to 250000. These are people who have traveled from their homelands for whatever reasons. If they come from Central or South America, they have walked to take “La Bestia” or “El tren del la muerte”. Many are severely injured or die just doing that. Then the trek through the desert with or without coyotes. If they don’t die, or aren’t killed, in our case to get to this trial they are detained and caught.
That brings us to court. They are bused in from detention centers or border patrol holding and meet with court appointed lawyers for a little bit. Each lawyer has 5-6 clients. They have to assess if they speak and understand enough english or spanish to proceed. Plea bargains are written and signed, and then court begins. At any point, a migrant may make a statement of fear. If they make one to border patrol, they shouldn’t wind up going to court. Today, a few did. The agents know that they should not, this means they are seeking asylum and in fear for their life, afraid to return home.
Last year, I remember the sound of chains as seventy people, men and women, young and old were brought in. Their personal affects are taken. When deported they are often never returned. Today, they were not all in the court together, and as each line was brought in, there were no chains and no one in prison garb.
The attempt to play at humanizing the inhumane was obvious. But this practice, this costly ineffective practice is still inhumane. It was like watching cattle be stamped and processed for sale. I will never forget it as long as I live. The chains may not have been visible this time, but I could still hear and see them.