Despite punitive requests from the prosecution, yesterday a district judge here in Tucson, AZ sentenced me and eleven fellow activists to no greater penalty than time already served for charges stemming from a direct action we carried out on October 11, 2013 when we blocked two buses transporting undocumented immigrants to the daily proceedings of "Operation Streamline." We had helped halt the buses, run by security giant G4S, off a local interstate frontage road before reaching the U.S. District Court of Arizona.
Following our trial this past March, we were convicted on two counts (out of seven criminal charges which had replaced an original felony charge): Obstructing a highway or other public thoroughfare, with the maximum penalty of 30 days; and public nuisance, up to four months, for a conceivable total exposure of five months in County Jail for these charges.
"We're asking the court for time served," said our defense attorney Margo Cowan. "These activists should be commended, not punished. They have brought attention to the horrible injustice of Operation Streamline that continues--even now, the same time as this hearing--day after day in Tucson.
Before the judge handed down her sentence, my co-defendants and I each addressed the court to provide information that did not come out during the trial. The courtroom audience was rowdy, boisterously erupting into applause after each of us finished our remarks. The judge didn't even try to corral everyone's passion into a hushed sort of "order" in the courtroom.
We discussed who we are and why we felt compelled to do this action. Among my fellow co-defendants, aged 22-70, are graduate students, those with undocumented family members, a retired career teacher, employee of the local community food bank, an evangelical Christian, and a member of the symphony orchestra.
In a dramatic development in the lead-up to the hearing, dozens of national and local supporters passionately wrote to the judge, railing Operation Streamline and urging that we be sentenced to no further jail time. Some of these supporters include the following:
Dr. Cornel West, world renowned author and philosopher, wrote, "Operation Streamline is not justice. For me, real justice is what love looks like in public. These activists had love in their hearts when they sat under and chained themselves to those G4S prison buses that were attempting to shuttle the captive undocumented brothers and sisters to a courtroom that would have deprived them of their own dreams for a better life in this country."
Dr. Angela Davis, prominent scholar, activist and former high-profile fugitive herself, who added that Operation Streamline "has also contributed drastically to guaranteeing that U.S. prisons are filled with black--and now, as a consequence of Operation Streamline, brown--bodies."
Alan Levine, an esteemed New York lawyer with LatinoJustice PRLDEF, who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in his 50-year career as a civil rights lawyer, who stated that Streamline "makes a mockery of our constitutional guarantee of fairness and equality."
Others of the many letters inundating the court were addressed from linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky, border scholar and former No More Deaths humanitarian volunteer Aviva Chomsky, historian and geographer Joseph Nevins, and noted scholars and experts in immigration, law and justice fields.
Each day in the Tucson sector's Operation Streamline, about 70 migrant men and women are shackled at their ankles, waist and wrists and collectively processed, ongoing since 2008. Called "assembly line justice," they are pressured to take a plea deal, waiving their rights to appeal, and given criminal charges and prison sentences prior to their deportation. Most, if not all, of these migrants are sent to private prisons for up to 180 days.
Streamline raises serious and troubling questions about constitutionally protected due process, the growth of private prisons, the deepening criminalization of migrants and the exploding costs of contemporary immigration enforcement, all with human costs that devastate families and communities.
My Address to the Court
My name is Gabriel Schivone. I'm an educator at the University of Arizona, specifically a learning tutor. I help students find the right words to convey the meaning of what they want to say.
When I think of why I locked myself down to that bus that day, I think of family. I think of my family. My dad was born in Italy; my mom was born in Mexico. It is too many generations ago for me to remember when Italians in this country, undocumented Italian immigrants, were disparaged as "illegals" and discriminated against as "WOPs"--(without papers)--and when they were hunted down and deported. I can't remember that; it was too long ago and now Italian-Americans "belong" here.
I can, however, personally remember how deportation has affected the other half of my family, too many of whom still don't "belong."
I think of my mom, Maria Jesus Camacho Schivone Kattner, who's here in the courtroom today. (Hi, mom!) You came to the U.S. as a child--luckily made it across, got naturalized citizenship later as a young adult, built a family--I and my siblings were born here. But under different circumstances I know it could have been you on that bus. So, with that in mind, I locked myself down around that bus's tire and didn't let go even when police ordered me to do so under threat of arrest.
I think of my cousin Carla who was living with us in our home when I was a child. And then one day she was gone. She had been deported, though I wouldn't know what "deported" really meant as a word or concept until many years later, when I began doing humanitarian aid work along the border. In my innocent consciousness as a child, she had just "disappeared." This is what our government, carrying out harsh enforcement policies, does.
And it's wrong. There's a quote that haunts me I'd like to share with you. The reputable Amnesty International, the largest human rights organization on earth, in its 2009 report, Jailed Without Justice, quotes former ICE executive director James Pendergraph, who unabashedly told a convention of police and sheriffs in 2008, "If you don't have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he's illegal, we can make him disappear."
Well, I know what "disappeared" feels like. It's an empty, cold feeling. And Carla's been gone from my life since that day. All she wanted to do here was work, start a family, which she did--and then our immigration enforcement system took it all away. Her daughter and father of her children are still here while she lives separated from them in Mexico with her other child.
This was all before Operation Streamline began; now the consequences are unimaginably worse on families whose members' lives are ruined by these unjust criminal records and jail sentences. This has got to stop. That's why I did what I did. I won't rest until Operation Streamline ends.
That day I thought of my mom on that bus; I thought of my cousin on that bus; I saw other people's moms and other people's cousins. That's why I locked down to that bus that day. To keep the families--my family, our families, their families--together.