For the next three weeks, I will be on the road with the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. We began in Denver at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference and we will end on November 15th with a panel with Javier Sicilia and Michelle Alexander.
We began the day at the medical examiners office where they shared about the “undocumented border crossers” whose remains are brought there, the cause of death and how they work to identify the bodies (or in many cases, the remains). On average per year, in the Pima county area, they are brought 175 remains, mainly dead from undetermined causes (but usually exposure to the elements) and they are able to identify 65% of the remains. As you can imagine, this presentation was difficult to hear.
In the afternoon, we were taken to the federal courthouse to bear witness to Operation Streamline. Operation Streamline began in 2005 and was implemented in 2008 in the Tucson region. It is a program that ultimately seeks to criminalize migrants and punish them for crossing the border. Rather than simply deporting these folks, the government has chosen to turn them into criminals. Each day, 70 migrants are brought before a judge and are essentially given the option: either plead guilty, get a misdemeanor offense and serve from 1-5 months in prison, or take your chances at the higher
level court, plead your case and probably receive a much higher sentence. Clearly, most people choose the former “option.”
Today I watched 70 people, mainly from Mexico and mainly young men be criminalized for simply seeking better economic opportunities. These young men (and some women) will serve time in prison, have a criminal record and will be charged with a felony and a longer prison sentence if they attempt to re-enter the United States. Today I watched people shackled at the wrists, waist and feet. They will enter a private prison system where they will work for free and ensure that these private prisons are at capacity. This is called modern slavery. This is state-sanctioned slavery.
When I saw so many of my fellow human beings deprived of liberty and treated so badly, tears welled in my eyes and my heart hurt. As Javier said in his speech tonight, this is an example of people not being protected by the state, but rather being completely criminalized for doing something that does not hurt anyone else. Every day at 1.30pm, I will be thinking of those 70 unique human beings who are being sentenced to a prison sentence simply for crossing an arbitrary line in search of an economic opportunity.
I encourage you to learn more about this—there is some hope. On October 11, activists shut down Operation Streamline by chaining themselves to the buses and not allowing it to continue. For that one day, they could not “streamline” people. Contact your legislators to let them know how you feel. We cannot continue to treat people this way.