The Berkeley law school researcher quotes a 2008 report from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts as stating:

"There are simply not enough jail beds, holding cells, courtrooms, and related court facilities along the border to handle all the cases that the government would like to prosecute under [Operation Streamline]."

In 2008 testimony before the U.S. House Subcommittee of Commercial and Administrative Law, federal public defender supervisor Williams summed up Operation Streamline in words that still ring true.

Brian Stauffer
A bus for private prisons giant Corrections Corporation of America picks up migrants 
sentenced to time in custody by a Tucson magistrate.
Stephen Lemons
A bus for private prisons giant Corrections Corporation of America picks up migrants sentenced to time in custody by a Tucson magistrate.

"Operation Streamline," she said, "may well be one of the least successful, but most costly and time consuming ways of discouraging [illegal] entries and reentries."

Similarly, Lydgate points out that hunger and life-or-death necessity trump any deterrent effect caused by a possible criminal sanction.

"Streamline is just not going to deter someone who needs to find work," Lydgate says. "Some people will come back again and again, even if they understand they may be prosecuted again."

If Williams and Lydgate are correct, why does the Obama administration continue to back this pricey policy lemon?

Perhaps there are simply too many who profit from Streamline.

Certainly, the Border Patrol benefits from this rationale for its increasingly bloated budget — nearly $3.6 billion for fiscal year 2010, with 4,290 Border Patrol agents in Arizona and more than 20,000 agents nationwide.

In addition, the $600 million supplemental border-security package recently signed by President Obama will add 1,000 Border Patrol agents and 500 customs officers to the southwest border. They will be assisted by the 1,200 National Guard troops deployed by the Obama administration to the region. Nearly half of the troops will be stationed in Arizona.

Also, private prisons profit off the creation of newly minted "criminal aliens," with the U.S. Marshal for Arizona now shelling out $13 million a month — potentially $156 million a year — to Corrections Corporation of America to hold federal prisoners in Florence, Arizona.

Anyone visiting Tucson will see the ubiquitous Wackenhut buses ferrying undocumented immigrants to and from the federal courthouse. The Border Patrol has contracted with the global security firm Wackenhut/G4S since 2006 to provide transportation for the migrants the Border Patrol captures.

According to Wackenhut/G4S's own Web site, it employs more than 600 "officers" operating more than 100 buses and vans along the U.S.-Mexico Border. The current CBP-Wackenhut contract is worth about $76 million a year.

It's not just the "prison industrial complex" (as some immigrant-rights activists refer to it) that benefits. It's the economies of the cities where Streamline is active.

"It's a job stimulus," says Judge Velasco. "It's tremendous for employment for law enforcement, lawyers, marshals, private citizens running private prisons. These policies generate a lot of money. There's a lot of people living well on the war on drugs and aliens."

Other than the money to be made and the jobs boon from Streamline, there's another calculus to bear in mind: the human suffering of otherwise ordinary people labeled and processed as common criminals.

"This is the least-known part of the militarization of the border," say Pima County legal defender Isabel Garcia, a pro-immigrant firebrand well known from her appearances on CNN.

"Somebody's making money," she adds. "That's what I believe this is all about. But, secondly, right with it is to criminalize people. Criminalize in the real sense of the word . . . When you criminalize it with a case, [immigrants] will not be able to come back to the U.S. [legally]."

That criminalization is brought full-circle when deportees are dropped off at the DeConcini port of entry, the main gateway between the U.S. and Mexican sides of Nogales.

The port of entry is the namesake of former U.S. Senator from Arizona Dennis DeConcini, son of the late Arizona Supreme Court Justice Evo DeConcini, whom the Tucson courthouse is named after.

Ironically, Dennis DeConcini is on the board of directors of Corrections Corporation of America, which owes part of its vast wealth to the Streamline hearings in Tucson.

From the DeConcini port of entry, or the Mariposa port of entry on the other side of town, migrants make their way to one of a network of private and governmental social-service agencies, where they can get fed, find a place to stay, and catch a cheap bus back to their hometowns.

Spouses caught together on the U.S. side often are separated during the Streamline process. At the Grupos Beta aid station in Nogales, husbands look for their wives, wives seek their husbands.

Their search may be made more difficult because many immigrants do not get their possessions back from the Border Patrol, which confiscates personal property upon arrest. Such personal property could include money, vital identification, cell phones, contact numbers, and addresses of loved ones.

Also, people are sometimes dropped off at ports of entry far from where they crossed, even in different states, such as California. And the Border Patrol has partnered in the past with other federal agencies to repatriate some migrants by flying them by the planeload to Mexico City, far from the border. That program costs the United States $15 million a year.

In Tucson there have been instances of wives in Streamline court asking for more time so that they can be released the same day as their husbands. Magistrates sometimes reluctantly grant such requests.

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