On March 7, 2020, eight law students, accompanied by Professors Lynette Parker and Evangeline Abriel, spent their spring break week volunteering at the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona. These inspiring students were S. Coleman, Chloe Czabaranek, Osvaldo Hidalgo Otamendi, Rigoberto Lua, Vasti Montiel, Ruby Palomares, Deisy Salas, and Victor Valdez Gonzalez. During the week, they worked with detained, pro se asylum seekers to complete asylum applications, researched country conditions to support the applications, researched a number of intricate legal issues, made phone calls to arrange placements for minor immigrants, met with the dedicated Florence Project attorneys and staff, and observed court proceedings. The students recorded their experiences in the following blogs.
Thursday, March 12, 2020
On Thursday, March 12, some of us went to the Federal District Court for the District of Arizona in downtown Tucson to observe an Operation Streamline proceeding. Operation Streamline is an initiative started in 2005 that allows the U.S. Attorney’s Office to criminally prosecute people who enter the U.S. unlawfully in group hearings. According to one federal public defender we spoke to, magistrate judges conduct en masse hearings for these cases with up to 100 defendants at once.
On this day, Judge Thomas Ferraro presided over a hearing with 75 defendants, all who had entered the U.S. only a few days before. Every defendant—including a pregnant woman and a man in a wheelchair—were shackled by the hands and feet. Judge Ferraro would call a small group up before the bench to ask if they understood the charge against them.
Those who had unlawfully crossed for the first time faced a misdemeanor for illegal entry that carries a six-month maximum sentence. Those who had previously unlawfully crossed the border faced more stringent charges. Each defendant we observed pleaded guilty with the help of an interpreter, and Judge Ferraro typically imposed time served before calling up the next group.
Although I have known about Operation Streamline for some time, this was my first time observing such a proceeding. It was eye-opening and heartbreaking, to say the least. As an immigrant myself, whose family came to the United States in search of economic stability, I could easily identify with those who we were seeking to provide their families with better lives. Additionally, the experience served as an important reminder that migrants face arduous challenges journeying to the United States and highlighted the crucial work that remains to be done.