The debate over the proposed "comprehensive immigration reform" bill is intensifying, with a "gang of six" senators attempting to hash out a bill that would regularize the status of some undocumented immigrants but may also include increased funding for harsh border enforcement policies.
This debate overlooks the astounding fact that federal spending on immigration enforcement now surpasses all other federal law enforcement activities combined. One of the most costly of these programs is Operation Streamline, a little-known enforcement program that is part of broader trend funneling immigrants into the criminal justice system. These policies channel billions of dollars to private prison corporations and are fueling the explosive growth in numbers of Latinos in prison. The "gang of six" are reportedly considering expanding funding of Operation Streamline.
Streamline, started in 2005 along a 210-mile section of the Texas-Mexico border around Del Rio, Texas, mandates that most immigrants apprehended crossing the border in designated areas are referred for criminal prosecution in the federal justice system.
Streamline is part of a broader trend of criminally charging immigrants under one of two federal crimes: 8 USC § 1325, unlawful entry of an immigrant, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in custody, or 8 USC § 1326, unlawful re-entry of a deported immigrant, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. In the past, immigrants apprehended crossing the border were dealt with almost exclusively within the civil immigration system.
My organization, Grassroots Leadership, recently released a report on the program. We found the following:
- Latinos now make up more than half of all those sentenced to federal prison despite making up only 16 percent of the country's population, largely because of immigration prosecutions.
Luckily, a broad coalition of faith, labor, immigration reform, civil rights and civil liberties, border groups, and criminal justice reform organizations have come together to call for the end to Operation Streamline and the criminalization of migration.
It's time to end this country's failed border militarization policy. A good first step is repealing Operation Streamline and ending the criminalization of migration.