These words were spoken by a defense attorney who represents migrants arrested for crossing the border into the United States. Operation Streamline is an expedited legal process unauthorized migrants face criminal prosecution and potential prison sentences in addition to formal deportation and removal from the United States. "Operation Streamline has drastically increased immigration prosecutions, making ILLEGAL RE-ENTRY, the most commonly filed federal charge." http://www.EndStreamline.org.
No photos can be taken in the federal courthouse during Operation Streamline. Imagine a large court room filled with seventy-nine migrants dressed in old t-shirts, jeans with an occasional jacket. Most of them are men, short men, indigenous looking men whose hands and ankles are shackled so they shuffle forward to hear the judge explain their options which are to plead guilty to a federal crime, "crossing the border," or plead non-guilty and have a trial BUT they will be locked up during this period of waiting for a trial.
The Judge always asks each person if he or she wants to make a statement. Most decline to say anything. This past week one of the few women said, "Si, Yo quiero decir algo." I could barely see her from my seat in the back of the courtroom. She was soft-spoken and short in a black skirt and dark blouse. "It is not right that I am detained. I haven't seen my mother in fifteen years nor my three brothers (born in the USA) that I had never met." Silence and then, the judge asks her if she would like to change her plea to not guilty and ask for a trial. She hesitates and the judge asks her to confer with her attorney and to decide before the end of this Streamline session.
It is as the lawyer said, it is immoral. Why are we making this woman have a criminal record for entering the United States to see her family? Most of the people that I have met in Tucson - at detention centers, at shelters for women and children on humanitarian parole or at Operation Streamline - the majority are trying to reach their families. We are criminalizing family reunification and because there is no longer a temporary work program, men who travelled north years ago to work under the "bracero" program or who entered the country without documents when it was a civil offense, not a criminal one, now are stuck in the USA and cannot return home.
The photo below is of the CCA - privately run detention center in Eloy, Arizona. I visited three women there last Friday, March 20th behind the barbed wire and many check points. It appears to be a prison although it is called a detention center. I will write more in my next blog about the women that I met there and their heart-wrenching stories.
The Mexican woman who told the judge that it was not correct to have detained her - has somewhat of a happy ending. Her attorney explained to the magistrate that her mother was recently a U.S. citizen and had petitioned for her daughter to join her in the USA. The judge gave her a new date to appear before Operation Streamline in order to provide time to ascertain if she could stay. I will not be in the court to hear the outcome of this case, but at least her voice was heard and there is the possibility that she can remain with her mother and brothers.
All of the stories are heart-breaking or opening up my heart to understand why people come. Why? A friend asked, because they want to be with family. Despite the media attention to job seekers and economic reasons why people leave - all if that is true, but to me, the bottom line, is la familia.
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?