A study by the Warren Institute of the University of California Berkeley School of Law charges that the federal Operation Streamline program aimed at unlawful U.S.-Mexico border crossers violates the civil rights of defendants and diverts scarce resources from fighting drug smuggling and human trafficking. The program, started in 2005, has led to unprecedented caseloads in eight of the eleven federal district courts along the border, says the report titled “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. 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.