Today I was outside the Operation Streamline at the Tucson Federal Courthouse, when I saw clergy with collars waiting to go into the courtroom. I knew that I could not take my cell phone camera in with me so I took some photos before we entered. I knew that the clergy had planned something to recognize and protest ten years of Operation Streamline but was unsure exactly what would happen.
The judge began the proceedings and as each one of the 60 defendants stood before him, the judge asked, Are you guilty of illegal entry to the United States? "Culpable," each answered. Suddenly, I heard Allison's voice calling up - "No, El corte es culpable, usted no es cupable." I felt shivers run down my spine - they are doing it. Every two or three questions re: culpable or no and another pastor would stand reading Scripture in Spanish or English and ending with the court is guilty.
Blessed are those who welcome the stranger was Allison's reading. As I looked around the courtroom at the faces of those detained, I wondered what they heard - were they heartened that there were people challenging the Operation Streamline machine and declaring it guilty of breaking the law, defying the U.S. Constitution and breaking international human rights law. I certainly hope so they understood the prophetic witness.
Here is the press release with quotes from the various clergy.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Sarah Launius
Cell Phone: (520) 977-5493
Local clergy offer prayer and protest at Operation Streamline hearing
US Marshals escort clergy out of the courtroom following disruption of the proceedings
Tucson, Arizona – On Monday, December 14 a group of 12 Arizona clergy held witness and eight disrupted court proceedings during the Operation Streamline hearing at the DeConcini Federal Courthouse in Tucson. Through Operation Streamline every weekday up to 70 people appear in court, plead guilty, and are sentenced in a mass hearing lasting two hours or less. Those sentenced and convicted are undocumented immigrants whose only “crime” is crossing the border without inspection. The Operation Streamline proceedings began ten years ago on December 16, 2005 in Del Rio, Texas. The program expanded to Tucson in 2008.
Today the court sentenced 59 individuals to between 30 and 180 days in federal prison. Several spoke about their desperation to reunite with family in the United States, explaining to the judge that unlawful entry was their only means of doing so. One-by-one, a group of eight Arizona clergy members stood up, offered prayers, read scripture and disrupted the proceedings, while four additional pastors observed in witness. Pastor Bart Smith of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church states, “I stood up and spoke out today in the name of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, who had to cross borders for their safety and well-being. Operation Streamline treats human beings as cattle and deprives them of due process.”
Retired Pastor Dan Johnson of Eastside Covenant Church, states, “I stood and spoke today as a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus was a friend to the poor, and so too must I be a friend to the poor. The people placed in these court proceedings are often seeking to escape unbearable poverty—to criminalize them is a terrible injustice.”
“I stood in the Streamline court today and spoke” says Retired Pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church John Fife, “because I have watched too long in silence as Streamline has violated human rights, the constitution, legal ethics, and my faith. I was called to speak this truth to those responsible, and to bless the poor.”
Pastor Randy Mayer of Good Shepherd United Church of Christ states, “I have attended Operation Streamline more than 50 times over nearly 10 years. Each time I left the court sick to my stomach as I quietly witnessed the abuse of our justice system and the tearing apart of vulnerable migrant families that were only trying to reunite. Today I could no longer be silent. I could no longer allow this ‘sham’ of justice to happen without my vocal opposition. In this Season of Christmas we place so much emphasis on family life and we lift up the Holy Family as a symbol of faithful living. As Christmas approaches, I could no longer, with any credibility or integrity, lead my congregation in welcoming the Baby Jesus into our hearts and minds if I sat quietly by as our US Government systematically dismantles and rips apart the very migrant families we honor and celebrate. This matters too much to be silent anymore, and I urge others of faith and conscience to speak out loudly as well.”
On Wednesday, December 16, at 12:30 community members will gather at the DeConcini Federal Courthouse in Tucson for street theater followed by a press conference. Speakers include: Matthew Lowen of the American Friends Service Committee; Isabel Garcia of Coalicion de Derechos Humanos; John Fife of Southside Presbyterian Church; Dino DeConcini of the End Streamline Coalition, and; Norlan Flores of the Southside Worker's Center, who was placed in Operation Streamline following a traffic stop in Tucson and a custody transfer to Border Patrol. They join border communities engaging in days of action from December 9-18, marking the 10th anniversary of Operation Streamline, a policy that criminalizes our community.
The 12 clergy holding witness in the court today prepared the following statement:
As pastors in the borderlands of Arizona, we join with community members, members of our congregations, human rights advocates, and many in the legal community in expressing our outrage over the proceedings of Operation Streamline. In communities on the border, Operation Streamline is known as a travesty of justice; to us it is a moral outrage and to remain silent is to become culpable in the criminalization of those Christ demands that we welcome.
Operation Streamline has been declared to be inhumane, ineffective, and a waste of taxpayer dollars. International courts have found it to be a violation of human rights and international law. The Office of Inspector General has found that there is no factual evidence that Operation Streamline is effective as a deterrent and may be in violation of international treaties. Furthermore, Operation Streamline is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars, millions of dollars each month in Tucson District Court alone. And the criminalization and mass incarceration of migrant workers has cost over $5 billion in the last five years at a profit of $90 million each year to the private prison industry. But beyond all of this, it has become clear to us that Operation Streamline is an affront to our faith and its commandment to welcome the stranger.
Leviticus 19: 33 reminds us, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt.” And the prophet Isaiah speaks loudly to his people, warning them of the anger of God when, “justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter” (Isaiah 59: 14). And as Christians, it is clear to us from the words of Jesus as they come to us from the 25th chapter of Matthew, that our very salvation depends on how we treat the stranger: “Come, you that are blessed… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was an alien and you welcomed me” (verses 34-35)
When we first observed these proceedings a few years ago, we were greatly concerned by what we witnessed in a courtroom in our community. Since then we have felt it to be our duty to bring other people of faith and conscience to the courtroom to be a quiet presence of solidarity for the migrants. But we feel that we can be silent observers no more. Each time we sat there silently, we felt as if, in some way, we were betraying the vows that we took as pastors to comfort those in sorrow. Each time we sat there witnessing the condemnation of migrants, we wanted to condemn the system that criminalized them. Each time we sat there, we wanted to reach out to those who wept, those who begged for mercy, the father pleading to be allowed to return to his US citizen children. Each time we sat there silently watching these proceedings, dozens of scripture readings ran through our minds: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). “Woe to you who deprive the poor of justice in the courts” (Amos 5:12).
Finally, we could sit silent no more and so today we have sought to speak truth to power, and to remind the magistrates, the lawyers, the marshals, and other officers of the court of the oaths that they took to uphold justice and the constitution and to turn away from practices that so undermine both the administration of justice and fundamental rights that are guaranteed to all under our constitution.
We have disrupted the courts and we do not do so lightly, for the courtroom is in its own way a sacred place. But we disrupted the proceedings today because they have already been disrupted in a much more troubling way by Operation Streamline.
It is clear to us that Operation Streamline is immoral, unjust, and a sin against the poor and their families, and as pastors in this community we have an obligation to speak.
And so our witness in the court and in the public square today is: “You (the shackled migrant workers) are not guilty – this court is guilty of injustice to the migrant poor and their families.” “Tu no eres culpable, este corte es culpable!”
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?