Skip to main content

Federal Ruling Could Toss Hundreds Of ‘Improper’ Immigrant Convictions

Border Patrol agents hold a news conference prior to a media tour of a new U....

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Border Patrol agents hold a news conference prior to a media tour of a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary facility near the Donna International Bridge, Thursday, May 2, 2019, in Donna, Texas.

A federal court issued a ruling on Wednesday that could throw out hundreds of convictions in the past year from San Diego.

Since last July, many migrants caught crossing the border illegally were sent here to federal court, where they were charged and convicted in mass hearings, as part of a federal prosecution program known as “Operation Streamline.”

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler

The ninth circuit court of appeals decided that the way immigrants were being charged was improper. These mass criminal prosecutions had been practiced along the border in Arizona and Texas for years and were expanded to California last July.

“Today what the 9th circuit said is that the government was basically charging these cases wrong for the last year,” siad Kara Hartzler, an attorney with Federal Defenders of San Diego. “It said that the way that they were charging them required you to show that they were coming through a port, whereas almost all of these cases involved people coming through the desert.”

RELATED: Judge Won't Block US Asylum Restrictions At Southern Border

But federal prosecutors in San Diego made one subtle change to the practice — and Wednesday, the ninth circuit court of appeals decided the change was improper.

The ruling means that hundreds of cases now on appeal can be overturned, and that thousands of immigrants could clear their record if they return to the US.

The expansion of “Operation Streamline” to California was done under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s “Zero Tolerance” policy, which aimed to criminalize as many migrants as possible who crossed the border outside of the port of entry.

Hartzler says shortly after oral arguments in the case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern California changed how they charged defendants in "Operation Streamline" to match the other districts its been implemented in.

San Diego News Matters podcast branding

Twenty-one researchers from the University of California San Diego were involved in a study performed on babies in China that has been called unethical, risky and misleading. Plus, a federal ruling could toss hundreds of “improper” immigrant convictions, a recent survey shows Chula Vista residents are concerned about homelessness and drug use in their community and a proposed update to ... Read more →

Aired: July 25, 2019 | Transcript

Editor's Note: The headline was updated to reflect that the federal ruling could toss hundreds of 'improper' immigrant convictions, not 'unconstitutional' convictions.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.