For the first time, illegal immigrants who are apprehended crossing the border will face criminal charges. While the Trump administration continues to enforce immigration law along the Tucson Sector, illegal border crossers are charged with misdemeanors. They then enter pleas in large groups, go to trial and receive sentences, usually for time already served, within a few minutes. Until recently, illegal border crossers were merely deported rather than facing criminal prosecution.
Federal immigration authorities and the U.S. Attorney’s office call the effort Operation Streamline, which had already been in place in Texas for the last 12 years. While Operation Streamline was previously in effect in the Tucson Sector, it has not been in place several years. However, the Tucson Sector has already seen the prosecution of 565 first-time offenders with the renewed effort.
Trials under Operation Streamline take place in Tucson several times each week. One a recent day, 58 immigrants were tried. Of those, approximately 35 were first-time offenders who were charged with improper entry. The remainder were persons who had been caught crossing the border illegally in the past and were thus charged with illegal re-entry.
Immigration agencies are able to prosecute first-time offenders because fewer illegal border crossers have meant that there are more government resources to be had and have freed up resources. The Tucson Sector has seen an uptick of migrant deaths caused by heat stroke, dehydration, and violence even while illegal border crossings are at an all-time low. However, critics of Operation Streamline claim that it unduly burdens courts, with the result that migrants choose more dangerous pathways into the US in order to avoid arrest. According to the Border Patrol, Operation Streamline prevents repeat offenders.
Tucson Sector spokesman Daniel Hernandez said of Operation Streamline, "This one is aimed specifically to deter people from coming to the country illegally in a way that prevents deaths." Hernandez said, "It creates consequences in the west desert region where we're having a lot of people distressed."
Border crossers without a prior record are turned over to federal prosecutors, Hernandez said. Two Customs and Border Protection attorneys are detailed to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tucson who exclusively handle the docket for Operation Streamline cases.