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Attorneys Worry Streamlined Immigrant Prosecutions Could Lead To Problems

People seeking political asylum in the United States line up to be interviewe...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: People seeking political asylum in the United States line up to be interviewed in Tijuana, Mexico, just across the U.S. border south of San Diego, Monday, June 4, 2018.

Attorneys Worry Streamlined Immigrant Prosecutions Could Lead To Problems

GUESTS:

Jean Guerrero, KPBS reporter

Transcript

Attorneys say a fast-track prosecution program called Operation Streamline is in the works for San Diego’s district courts to handle illegal border crossing cases in groups rather than individually.

Operation Streamline is supposed to help implement the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings. That policy called for anyone who enters the U.S. illegally to be criminally prosecuted — even first-time offenders and asylum seekers.

First-time illegal entry is a federal misdemeanor that was rarely prosecuted over the past two decades along the border, with resources focused on more serious crimes. But in response to the zero-tolerance policy, the U.S. Attorney here is calling for 100 new such misdemeanor cases a week.

RELATED: Detention Centers Fill Up; 1K Border Detainees Sent To California Prison

Last month, the chief judge for the Southern District of Southern California created the Criminal Case Management Committee to address what he called “strains, issues and problems for the Court and its personnel” caused by these new demands.

Jeremy Warren is a criminal defense attorney who has been at meetings with the committee. He said Operation Streamline could hurt the due process rights of these immigrants, many of whom need translators and speak rare indigenous languages. Warren said streamlining their prosecutions could violate their constitutional rights.

"We are very concerned about their constitutional rights and we as the criminal defense community will do everything to make sure our clients' rights are honored," he said.

Warren said he thinks the new strategy of prosecuting all illegal border crossings is letting more serious criminals off the hook.

"In this district we do a lot of serious fraud cases. Cartel cases. All sorts of major investigations go on here. And resources are being diverted to prosecuting the guy who was coming here to pick tomatoes," he said. "We're not so sure that's the best use of resources."

RELATED: Undeterred By Trump, Asylum-Seekers Line Up At The Border

Operation Streamline was first introduced in 2005 under the Bush administration. It's in place in many other parts of the country, with as many as 100 people arraigned at a given time, sometimes in shackles. But plans to introduce it in San Diego would be a turning point for the region.

The Office of the U.S. Attorney here declined to comment on Operation Streamline, saying only that it’s looking for “practical solutions” to Trump’s zero tolerance policy. The Department of Justice declined to comment on Operation Streamline and instead called the southern district a “great partner” in the department’s goal of restoring the rule of law to the border.

Warren said the Trump administration has ramped up family separation for people who enter the U.S. illegally is adding to his concerns about the due process rights of his clients.

"Many of these people under the administration's new policy will have been separated from their children. So imagine trying to talk about a misdemeanor case with someone who just lost his or her five year old kid. Do you really think they're going to be in a position to talk about going back to Mexico when all they want to do is find out what happened to their child?"

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