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Will Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bring an End to Operation Streamline?

The Detention Watch Network is launching a campaign urging Congress to bring an end to Operation Streamline.  Started in 2005 under the Bush administration, Operation Streamline funnels migrants that cross the border into the criminal justice system to be prosecuted for immigration related “crimes.” Those apprehended at the border for the first time are prosecuted for the misdemeanor offense of unauthorized entry punishable up to 6 months in prison and those re-entering the country after a prior deportation order are prosecuted for felony re-entry punishable up to 20 years in prison.

According to the Detention Watch Network:

In 2011, unauthorized entry and re-entry were the two most prosecuted crimes in the federal judicial system – more than murder, robbery or financial fraud. These prosecutions are fueling the explosive growth in numbers of Latinos in prison. Latinos now make up more than 50 percent of all those sentenced to federal prison despite making up only 16 percent of the US population.

The federal government has spent an estimated $5.5 billion incarcerating undocumented immigrants in the criminal justice system for unauthorized entry and re-entry since 2005, above and beyond the $2 billion per year it has spent on the civil immigration detention system. Much of the aforementioned $5.5 billion has been channeled to private prison corporations to confine people in “CAR” prisons with deplorable conditions for merely trying to reunite with their families.

Last night, the President delivered his State of the Union address where he gave immigration reform a grand total of 210 words. Of course, a number of DREAMers were invited attend. As for the speech itself, there were the usual talking points of border security and earned citizenship, all of which was nothing more than a dog and pony show created to distract from the real  issues plaguing our immigration system. There is real human suffering happening right now as we speak, most of which can be alleviated by simply suspending punitive enforcement policies such as Operation Streamline. If Congress or the President wants to have any credibility regarding immigration reform then they need to start shifting the narrative towards ending the criminalization of immigrants.

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Marybeth Onyeukwu

Marybeth Onyeukwu