In practice, the program has created a mass assembly-line justice system in which individuals are apprehended, handed over to U.S. marshals, placed in county jails to await trial at a federal courthouse, sentenced in a matter of hours or days, sent to a federal prison—a majority of which are private for-profit facilities — and then handed over to ICE for removal proceedings which could instead have been used much more cheaply in the first place.
Streamline overloads federal courthouses – the district of Arizona even had to declare a judicial emergency – and diverts resources away from prosecuting more serious crimes that present true threats to public safety, such as arms or drug smuggling or human trafficking. Five border districts now handle 41 percent of all federal cases, while nationwide entry and reentry prosecutions are up 130 percent from 2007 despite migrant apprehensions being at a 40-year low. All this comes at an incredible cost to U.S. taxpayers, mostly on costs for incarceration, and contributes greatly to federal prison overcrowding.
The program also intensifies racial inequality in our criminal justice system. Latino and Hispanic people now constitute almost 35 percent of the entire currently imprisoned federal prison population, despite constituting only 16 percent of the U.S. population. The percentage of resources allocated to prosecution and incarceration of persons for immigration crimes is highly disproportionate to any reasonable assessment of the needs of public safety.
If we continue Streamline, where else will the U.S. courts short-change justice and due process? Do we really want a justice system that treats people not as individuals with families, jobs and dreams, but as a just another input in a legal assembly line?
Instead of expanding this costly program, which would require building new courthouses and contracting for thousands more jail beds, Congress should evaluate Streamline’s true fiscal and human costs — and then face the truth that Operation Streamline is a failed experiment that must be halted.
Gaubeca is director of ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights. Stiven is a retired U.S. magistrate judge for the Southern District of California.