Federal Program Delivers Speedy 25-Second Trials to Illegal Immigrants, Then Jail

Thursday, February 13, 2014
Protestors block bus carrying detainees to Tucson courthouse (photo: Gary M. Williams, AP)

As part of an effort to get tough with illegal immigrants crossing in the United States, the federal government has thrown the concept of a speedy trial into hyperdrive.


Known as Operation Streamline, the government hauls groups of unwashed immigrants captured near the border into courtrooms and gives them less than 30 seconds a piece to hear the charges against them, enter a plea and receive their sentence.


Judges involved in the process insist it’s legal and constitutional.


“As ugly as some people think it is, it’s a bargain for the defendants,” Magistrate Judge Bernardo P. Velasco of Federal District Court in Tucson, Arizona, told The New York Times. “What we do is constitutional, it satisfies due process. It may not look good, but it does everything the law requires.” Velasco said he gives each of his defendants about 25 seconds for his or her trial.


Critics have labeled the process—which began under President George W. Bush and expanded under President Barack Obama—assembly-line justice.


“We respect the process; the United States is a sovereign country,” Tucson-based Mexican Consul Ricardo Pineda Albarrán told the Times. “But compressing a decision about someone’s future in a minutes, seconds, when the circumstances of each case are so different, has a devastating social and human impact.”


After being sentenced, the immigrants spend anywhere from one to six months in prison before getting deported.


Supporters of Operation Streamline say the program has discouraged people from coming back over the border without authorization.


They point to a Congressional Research Service report produced last year that showed the recidivism rate among migrants deported under Operation Streamliner was 10%, compared to 27% for migrants who agreed voluntarily to return to their home country and avoided prosecution.


“This is the hardest evidence we have suggesting that Streamline has had more of a deterrent effect than putting people on a bus and sending them back to Mexico,” Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has studied the effects of border enforcement on migration, told the newspaper.


About 209,000 people were processed through the program between 2005 and 2012, constituting about 45% of all immigration-related prosecutions carried out in southwestern districts.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Detainees Sentenced in Seconds in ‘Streamline’ Justice on Border (by Fernanda Santos, New York Times)

Circuit Court Rules Mass Immigration Trial Pleas are Illegal (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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