What should I expect if I was caught crossing the border illegally?

If an individual gets caught crossing the border, they are looking a federal charges; even if that individual is a first-time crosser. A program titled Operation Streamline has created a "no tolerance" policy on those that enter this country illegally. But what should be the policy on deciding those individuals' fates once they are in the United States? Is 30 minutes enough time to hear from 70 people and sentence them individually? A federal judge in Tucson, Arizona believes so.

Operation Streamline is a Bush Administration program that was implemented in 2005 that orders federal criminal charges for every person who crosses the border illegally. The system was created as a "zero tolerance" program so even those first time undocumented border-crossers would be forced to go through the federal criminal justice system and into U.S. prisons. Those who are caught making a first entry are prosecuted for misdemeanors and face a sentence that ranges from 30 days to six months. These sentences can be served in federal prisons, county jails, or private detention centers that are contracted out by the government. If any of the migrants are caught reentering after deportation, they may be prosecuted for felonies and could face up to 20 years in prison. These migrants are kept from their families for two reasons: to punish them for breaking a law and as motivation for them not to try and come back.

After the program was put into place, it was apparent that some areas of the country are affected significantly more than others. Tucson, Arizona is one of these places. From January 1, 2008, until December 31, 2013, 73,900 people were prosecuted under Operation Streamline. In Tucson, only 70 of those people can be prosecuted at one time because there are only 70 cells available to hold them. Depending on the judge, some of these defendants get their sentence faster than others.

Magistrate Judge Bernardo P. Velasco of Federal District Court said that his record for prosecuting all 70 of the defendants is 30 minutes. Each of the accused migrants has approximately 25 seconds to hear the charges against him, enter a plea, and receive a sentence accordingly. Other judges take up to two and a half hours to sentence all 70 of the defendants. The fast pace of these proceedings have led to accusations of assembly-line justice in the past. However, judges have come forward saying that although these fast in-and-out proceedings may not look good, they do everything that the law requires; the proceedings are constitutional and satisfy due process.

Saúl M. Huerta, an attorney who was hired by the government to represent the migrants, stated that "the whole thing is basically about meeting the minimum requirements so as not to violate your rights." However, a different prospective is offered by those being prosecuted. Mexican consul Ricardo Pineda Albarrá discussed the process these individuals go through. Albarrá discussed that although the process is respected, deciding someone's fate in a matter of minutes does have a devastating social and human impact.


NY Times, Detainees sentenced in seconds in streamline justice on border, Fernando Santos, 2/11/14

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