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Operation Streamline

Trump Pushing to Expand Operation Streamline and Migrant Incarceration in Private Prisons

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President Trump is pushing to expand Operation Streamline, a federal procedure to prosecute immigrants en masse with the federal crime of improper entry, reports the Houston Chronicle. While the first entry is charged as a misdemeanor, improper re-entry is charged as a felony with up to 20 years in prison. The Trump administration plans to expand the existence of this court procedure to California. Immigrants convicted in Operation Streamline and other federal court proceedings for immigration accounted for over half of federal criminal convictions in 2016. According to the Houston Chronicle, “By 2013, misdemeanor and felony prosecutions for crossing the border had skyrocketed to more than 91,200 cases, a 500 percent increase from 2003.” Those convicted are incarcerated in privately-operated Bureau of Prison facilities, most of which are located in Texas.

The government renamed Operation Streamline as Criminal Consequence Initiative last year. Since its inception in 2005, it has cost an estimated $7 billion according to Indefensible, the book published by Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies on the topic.

The criminal conviction of a prison sentence is intended to deter migrants from crossing the border, which ICE claims has lessened border crossings. According to the article by the Houston Chronicle, “The Government Accountability Office, however, has found problems with the agency's methodology, suggesting return rates basically remained unchanged when measuring over a more realistic time frame of three years and excluding immigrants who stayed in the United States in that period.”

The article further cites advocates’ denouncing of the program as a violation of immigrants’ due process rights, particularly for those seeking to claim asylum. “Both the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Human Rights First, a national non-profit, have documented dozens of instances in which Customs and Border Protection officers wrongly didn't refer migrants for asylum interviews or pressured them into withdrawing their requests,” the article reports.

The push to expand Operation Streamline would likely lead to the construction of more private prisons under the Trump administration. Operation Streamline and associated felony prosecutions have driven contracts for 13 new privately operated “Criminal Alien Requirement” prisons from 2000-2013, according to Grassroots Leadership.

Complaints over medical care mounting in private immigrant prisons in Texas

Big Spring
Big Spring
Families of prisoners in Big Spring Correctional Center are speaking out over a lack of medical care in the facility. An attorney who filed a lawsuit in Willacy County last month says he plans on filing similar suits over conditions at all five criminal alien requirement (CAR) prisons in Texas. News West 9 reports that Attorney William McBride filed a lawsuit against the Willacy County Private Prison after allegations of maltreatment against the immigrants detained there.

Family members of prisoners inside the Big Spring Correctional Center are also claiming that the facility is not giving proper medical care to their loved ones. Big Spring is one of five criminal alien requirement (CAR) private prisons in Texas, and is currently being run by GEO Group.

The lack of medical care was at the heart of an uprising at a the Willacy County facility in Raymondville last month, which is run by Mangement & Training Corporation (MTC). Media reported that as many as 2,000 prisoners at the Willacy County Correctional Center staged a two-day protest over medical care that began on the morning of February 20 when they refused to eat breakfast. The prisoners would eventually take control of part of the prison, and set fires to a number of the kevlar tents that make up the prison.

In Big Spring, among the 3,500 prisoners is Marcy Torres’ father, a man who needs a daily dose of medication for his liver disease. She told News West 9, “When he goes to the doctor [at the facility], he has to tell them what he's there for because basically they don't know. They're changing doctors so many times, they don't have the staff.”

Another incarcerated person at Big Spring told News West 9 that he has been waiting for over nine months to receive his medication. He shared inside information about the conditions within the facility, but declined to be named. According to him, if those incarcerated need certain medications, they must pay for them - an expense that few can afford. He claimed prisoners are forced to wear blood-stained underwear and that the only time bathrooms are fixed is when inspectors make visits. He told News West 9, “The abuse from the employees is terrible. They humiliate us. They say they're gonna deport us because we don't have rights."

CAR prisons are segregated prisons for immigrants in the federal prison system. They are all operated by for-profit, private prison companies. There are 13 CAR facilities in the U.S. and five of those are in Texas. These prisons hold immigrants convicted of federal crimes, which are mostly related to crossing the border. Because of a program called Operation Streamline and a related spike in felony prosecutions for border-crossing, immigrants are criminally prosecuted for crossing the border and funneled into CAR prisons.

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Groups working to Fight Private Prison Expansion and Immigrant Detention Host Webinar

This week, Bob and I participated in a webinar hosted by Detention Watch Network and our respective organizations, The Sentencing Project and Grassroots Leadership. The webinar addressed the relationship between for-profit prisons and immigrant detention.  

Cody Mason, with The Sentencing Project, presented on the recent report, Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention, where he discussed the growth in ICE and USMS contract capacity for immigrant detention.  Bob discussed how Operation Streamline is driving growth in immigrant detention through the increased prosecutions of certain federal offenses that have moved immigration policy into the criminal justice system.  Also, Emily Tucker with the Detention Watch Network focused her remarks on the problems with mandatory detention and the unjust federal and state policies that have expanding the government’s authority to detain people.  The call also featured Hope Mustakim of Texas; her husband Nazry immigrated from Singapore several years ago and due to changes in immigration policy was detained in the South Texas Detention Center in 2011.

A few notable facts reported during the webinar are:

  • State and federal prisoners held in private prisons grew 37% between 2002 and 2010;
  • Detainees held in private prisons increased by 259% between 2002 and 2010;
  • Operation Streamline has contributed to immigrant detainees held by USMS increased by 121% 
  • after 2005, despite Border Patrol Apprehensions decreasing by nearly 250%;
  • Operation Streamline has also led to a 136% increase in U.S.C. 1325 (improper entry) prosecutions and 85%; increase in prosecutions for U.S.C. 1326 (reentry of removed Aliens) prosecutions in both the W. Texas and S. Texas Districts;
  • 60% of people in detention are there under mandatory detention laws; and 
  • Obama administration's immigration enforcement policy targets individuals with criminal convictions.

Nearly 200 people registered for the webinar, representing communities of faith, impacted communities, and organizers working towards immigration and criminal justice reform.  Folks can download the webinar here until August 29th. 

Is Operation Streamline a billion dollar give-away to the private prison industry?

A new "green paper" released Monday entitled Operation Streamline: Drowning Justice and Draining Dollars along the Rio Grande takes a look at the impact of Operation Streamline on the private prison industry.  I co-authored the report for Grassroots Leadership, a sponsor of this blog. 

Operation Streamline, initiated in 2005 in Del Rio and expanded to much of the Texas and Arizona border, mandates that immigrants apprehended at the border are detained, prosecuted, and incarcerated in the criminal system in addition to the civil immigration system.  This is a departure from previous policy in which most immigrants were only dealt with in the civil immigration system.

The result has been a mess.  In Texas alone, 135,000 immigrants now have criminal records and many have done real prison time under the Streamline before being deported (far from streamlining the process, the policy adds another layer of incarceration on top of the existing civil detention system). 

While most researchers believe that the program hasn't deterred unauthorized immigration, the program has affected the judicial system in serious ways.  The federal court system is horrendously over-booked.  54% of 2009's federal prosecutions across the country were for immigration violations.  In the Southern District of Texas, a district that includes Houston, a full 84% of April prosecutions were for two immigration violations - unauthorized entry (1325) and unauthorized re-entry (1326).  With a mandated focus on prosecution of immigration violations, diligence to other prosecutions has fallen off dramatically.

So, who wins in this scenario?  Our research indicates that, since 2005, more than $1.2 billion in federal money has been spent on the detention and incarceration for unauthorized entry and re-entry in Texas alone.  Nearly all of that  prison beds - contracted by the US Marshals and Federal Bureau of Prisons - are operated by private prison corporations.  Prisons like the GEO Group's Laredo Superjail, Emerald's LaSalle County Detention Center, and LCS's Coastal Bend Detention Center have sprung up around south and west Texas to win US Marshals contracts, largely driven by increased immigration prosecutions.  Could it be that Operation Streamline is a billion dollar give-away  to the private prison industry?

Check out the full report and a new blog on Operation Streamline at www.grassrootsleadership.org.

NPR's "Fresh Air" interviews Tom Barry on the growing private immigrant prison system

I received a flurry of text messages yesterday afternoon telling me to tune in to National Public Radio's Fresh Air ("Questions On Public-Private Prisons For Immigrants," December 10) interview with Tom Barry yesterday on the growing immigrant incarceration system.  Barry's most recent article in the Boston Review and  covered ongoing problems at GEO's Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, the subject of human rights protests this week. The interview is well worth a listen, and touches on many of the issues we cover here at Texas Prison Bid'ness. 

 

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"A Death in Texas": More excellent coverage of immigrant detention complex from Tom Barry

Tom Barry continues his excellent coverage of the growing system of private prisons detaining immigrants for ICE, the U.S. Marshals, and the federal prison system in a new article in the Boston Review ("A Death in Texas: Profits, Poverty, and Immigration Converge," November/December 2009) online this week. 

Barry, whose excellent blogging over at the Border Lines Blog, has covered the growing immigrant detention industrial complex in the context of the mess that is the Reeves County Detention Center out in Pecos.  In this new article, Barry takes a comprehensive look at the policies and poverty that have driven poor rural Texas towns into the prison industry, and what some of the disasterous results have been.  Here's a brief sample:

Debbie Thomas, curator of the West of the Pecos Museum (commonly known as the cowboy museum), sighs when asked about the town’s only steady business over the past two decades. “Well, we don’t want to be known as a prison town, but it’s better than being a ghost town,” she says. Pecos was once a busy crossroads and hub of industry. Today, the downtown is dead.  In 1985 Reeves County became the first of a few dozen Texas counties to get into the speculative prison business, when Judge Jimmy Galindo (no relation to Jesus Manuel Galindo) persuaded the County Commissioners Court to take a bold step for Pecos’s economic future. At the time, Judge Galindo and other county leaders argued that Pecos could cash in on the surge in incarceration rates that accompanied the war on drugs. Years later, for the prison’s two expansions, the county and the private operators would rely on the federal government to send them immigrant inmates.

Indeed, immigrant detention has been central to the growth of the “privates” for more than two decades. The Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS) 1983 decision to outsource immigrant detention to the newly established Corrections Corporation of America gave birth to the private-prison industry; GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) got its start imprisoning immigrants in the late 1980s.

While the nation’s nonimmigrant prison population has recently leveled off, the number of immigrants in ICE (formerly INS) detention has increased fivefold since the mid-1990s, and continues year after year to reach record highs. Assuming current trends hold, ICE will detain more than 400,000 immigrants in 2009.
The federal government’s escalating demand for immigrant prison beds saved CCA and other privates that had overbuilt speculative prisons. Over the past eight years, the prison giants CCA ($1.6 billion in annual revenue) and GEO Group ($1.1 billion) have racked up record profits, with jumps in revenue and profits roughly paralleling the rising numbers of detained immigrants.

The full article is certainly worth the time to read.  See it here, and check out Barry's other excellent work at Border Lines Blog.

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