By Alan Bean
On February 23rd, several advocacy groups are sponsoring a briefing for congressional staff that shines a spotlight on Operation Streamline and the link between immigration policy and the private prison boom.
What is Operation Streamline, you ask? This helpful fact sheet will bring you up to speed. Pay particular attention to the recommendations at the very end. It’s good to see proponents of a sane and sensible immigration policy placing concrete policy recommendations on the table.
Bipartisan negotiations over immigration reform – which pit a “pathway to citizenship” against “more
enforcement” – could lead to an expansion of “Operation Streamline” and federal felony prosecutions
of people crossing the Mexican border into the US. Criminal prosecutions of migrants promote the
unnecessary growth of private prisons at a time when crime is down nationwide. Lucrative contracts
for 13 “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons only serve the interests of private prison
profiteers, not public safety.
When it was introduced in 2005, “Operation Streamline” triggered a dramatic increase in misdemeanor
prosecutions of people who cross the border without authorization and greatly escalated felony
prosecutions (punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison) of those who cross the border after a past
deportation. These prosecutions represent a significant departure from the normal practice of treating
irregular migration as a civil violation.
In 2011, unauthorized entry and re-entry were the two most prosecuted crimes in the federal judicial
system – more than murder, robbery or financial fraud. These prosecutions are fueling the explosive
growth in numbers of Latinos in prison. Latinos now make up more than 50 percent of all those
sentenced to federal prison despite making up only 16 percent of the US population.
The federal government has spent an estimated $5.5 billion incarcerating undocumented immigrants in
the criminal justice system for unauthorized entry and re-entry since 2005, above and beyond the $2
billion per year it has spent on the civil immigration detention system. Much of the aforementioned
$5.5 billion has been channeled to private prison corporations to confine people in “CAR” prisons with
deplorable conditions for merely trying to reunite with their families.
GEO Group’s CEO George Zoley’s 2011 letter to shareholders stated: “At the federal level, initiatives
related to border enforcement and immigration detention with an emphasis on criminal alien
populations as well as the consolidation of existing detainee populations have continued to create
demand for larger-scale, cost efficient facilities.”
Immigration reform should not expand “Operation Streamline”
• Decriminalize border crossing by repealing unauthorized entry, §1325, and unauthorized re-entry,
§1326, simply maintaining border crossing as a civil, not criminal, violation – and eliminate
Department of Justice funding for felony and misdemeanor prosecutions of migrants crossing the
• Prohibit the outsourcing of federal detention and incarceration functions, including ICE, Bureau of
Prisons, and US Marshalls detention, to private prison companies and local jurisdictions, via
contracts, Intergovernmental Service Agreements, MOUs, or other such agreements; and
• Eliminate Department of Justice funding for the “CAR” prison program.