Newswise — A new study by a UC Berkeley School of Law think tank offers a scathing critique of a U.S. immigration enforcement program that targets migrant workers. The Berkeley Law Warren Institute report states that the program, Operation Streamline, violates the civil rights of defendants and diverts scarce resources from fighting the roots of border violence: drug smuggling and human trafficking.

Operation Streamline was launched along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2005 and requires the federal criminal prosecution and imprisonment of all unlawful border crossers. It has led to unprecedented caseloads in eight of the eleven federal district courts along the border, according to the Warren report, Assembly-Line Justice. The immigration program has strained the resources of judges, U.S. attorneys, U.S. Marshals, and court staff. Magistrate judges are forced to conduct hearings en masse, during which as many as 80 defendants plead guilty at a time.

“Most of these defendants complete the entire criminal proceeding in one day—meeting with counsel, pleading guilty, and being sentenced,” says Joanna Lydgate, study author and Warren Institute civil rights fellow. “It’s assembly-line justice.”

Between 2002 and 2008, federal magistrate judges along the U.S.-Mexico border saw their misdemeanor immigration caseloads more than quadruple. Criminal prosecutions of petty immigration-related offenses increased by more than 330 percent in the border district courts.

Lydgate found that Operation Streamline’s numerous prosecutions were straining resources to the breaking point with little impact on criminal activity or undocumented immigration. Her findings were confirmed in interviews with judges, federal prosecutors, public defenders, and others in four border cities in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

“Our study found that Operation Streamline has unacceptable consequences for the agencies forced to implement the program, for the migrants it targets, and for the rule of law in this country,” she said. “It diverts crucial law enforcement resources away from fighting violent crime along the border, fails to effectively reduce undocumented immigration, and violates the U.S. Constitution.”

“Combating violence along the U.S.-Mexico border is a top priority for this administration,” said Aarti Kohli, director of immigration policy at the Warren Institute, “but Operation Streamline channels law enforcement funding and attention toward the arrest and prosecution of low-level offenders, rather than focusing on the dangerous criminals involved in border violence.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that drug-related murders more than doubled in Mexican border cities between 2007 and 2008, rising to 6,200 deaths. The Department of Justice has described Mexican drug trafficking organizations as “the greatest organized crime threat to the United States.”

The Warren Institute report recommends that the administration shut down Operation Streamline and replace it with a more effective approach to border enforcement. It calls on the administration to:

• revert to the practice of leaving unlawful border crossings to the civil immigration system, allowing the Department of Homeland Security to treat first-time unlawful entry as an administrative violation and deport immigrants without draining resources; and

• restore U.S. attorneys’ discretion to prosecute dangerous criminals and border crossers who are caught with drugs or weapons, rather than focusing on immigrants with no prior criminal history.

To read the full report, go to

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