The trial against a group of immigration rights activists—who accomplished shutting down the Operation Streamline proceedings for a day two years ago—began this morning. As the group attempts to defend their actions in court for the next couple of days, they and their attorney Margo Cowan, don't want any attention to be taken off Streamline or the consequences it brings to the lives of undocumented immigrants.
A few of the defendants, among them Sarah Launius, Maryada Vallet and Paula McPheeters, traveled on Saturday to the Kino Border Initiative
comedor in Nogales, Mexico to speak to migrants who were streamlined and then deported. They hope to share their testimonies in court.
The 16 activists who were arrested that day (12 of whom appeared in court today—according to Cowan, two of those absent want plea bargains) are facing several charges, including criminal trespassing, obstructing government operations, obstructing prosecution in the second degree, resisting arrest and being a public nuisance.
Some of them will be testifying tomorrow, and they expect a resolution by then, too.
"We want the trial to be about the people on the bus, not the people under the bus," said defendant Steve Johnston after leaving court this afternoon.
In her opening statement, Cowan said we need to look at the bigger picture, and really analyse the injustices that go on in the Streamline proceedings. She referred to it as a failure of the country's judicial system.
The attorneys for the state merely presented a recap of what took place that morning. Their second witness today was one of the bus drivers, who said his first reaction the day of the protest was to grab his gun, because he didn't know what was going on. He's transported drug cartel members in the past, and seeing a vehicle abruptly stop in front of him freaked him out.
The judge also heard from Tucson Police Department agents who were on the scene that day. The prosecution has two more witnesses and then it's the defense's turn to share their side of the story, Johnston says.
While the state is putting the activists on trial, the activists hope to put Streamline on trial, instead.
In the early morning of Oct. 11, 2013
, two prison buses carrying roughly 70 detained undocumented immigrants suspended their journey to the Evo A. DeConcini U.S. Courthouse in downtown Tucson, after a white SUV stopped in front of the first bus on the I-10. Protesters surrounded the buses.
They chained themselves together to the frontal tires using dragon sleeves, PVC pipes covering their arms, and immobilized themselves for hours. Streamline was interrupted for that whole day. Nine of the undocumented immigrants on the buses faced the proceedings the next day and the rest were deported without facing time in detention.
Operation Streamline began in Del Rio, Texas back in 2005. It made its way to Tucson three years later, and now operates in a total of seven border cities. After migrants are apprehended by the Border Patrol, oftentimes while crossing the Sonoran Desert, some are put in temporary detention facilities and others forced to sign paperwork in English, which they do not understand, resulting in their immediate deportation back to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries.
The ones who are "chosen" to be prosecuted in federal court get less than 20 minutes to talk to a public defender—if you can call them that. These people are shackled and given no option but to plead guilty to illegal entry. Judges sentence them to up to six months in prison, and they are then deported, except now with a federal criminal record.
"Despite long histories of human rights abuses and substandard conditions, private prison companies receive millions of taxpayer dollars for incarcerating immigrants through Streamline," a handout by the End Operation Streamline Coalition
, the American Friends Service Committee and No More Deaths
says. There was a Streamline information table outside the Pima County Consolidated Justice Courthouse, where volunteers handed out anti-Streamline pins, stickers and pamphlets.
That same October day, six other activists chained themselves to block the courthouse parking lot entrance. Last year, they were found guilty of disorderly conduct on federal property and failure to follow the direction of a federal police officer.
Defendant Gabriel Schivone—also a Tucson writer, blogger and journalist––wrote a beautiful piece on the Huffington Post
Operation Streamline is all about besmirching migrants as criminals instead of processing their cases through civil or administrative immigration courts, as in the past. Much thanks to Streamline, now Latinos represent more than half of all those sentenced to federal prisons. As of 2012, more than 200,000 people had been prosecuted through Streamline-related enforcement throughout the Southwest and U.S. interior since the program's onset in 2005—with 74,000 prosecutions in Tucson alone since Jan., 2008. The numbers are, today, much higher and a rising boon to private prison corporations like Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America. If the "security" package of the Senate's immigration reform proposal passes the House—a "common sense" bill, according to President Obama—it will expand Streamline by 300 percent.