has issued a report written by Judith A. Greene, Bethany Carson, Andrea Black entitled "Indefensible: a Decade of Mass Incarceration of Migrants Prosecuted for Crossing the Border." The report examines the widespread proliferation of federal criminal prosecutions of immigrants that have committed civil immigration law violations trying to come to the United States.

From the report:

December 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of the launch of a program to target for criminal prosecution migrants who had crossed the border without authorization. It was named “Operation Streamline.” It is known for the mass hearings (often lasting less than two hours) in which up to 80 migrants are arraigned, found guilty, convicted and sentenced for 8 USC 1325 (improper entry, a misdemeanor) simultaneously. The policy has long been decried by immigrant rights advocates. However, the mass hearings of Operation Streamline, as shocking as they are, are only the tip of the iceberg.

Lesser known by the general public, media, and even some immigrant rights and criminal justice reform advocates, is the widespread expansion of 8 USC 1326 (re-entry, a felony) prosecutions over the past decade that came with the Streamline program. Though border officials in some sectors say that Operation Streamline has ended, the numbers of migrants prosecuted in federal courts is still massive in sheer numbers.

The criminal prosecution of migrants crossing our southern border has had profound impacts on the federal courts and federal prisons over the last decade. In 2015, improper entry and re-entry prosecutions accounted for al-most half of all federal prosecutions (49 percent). Improper entry is punish-able by up to 180 days in federal jail while improper re-entry is punishable by up to two years. And if the migrant has a serious prior criminal history, many more years may be added to the sentence.

Almost a quarter of those in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) prison population are non-citizens (23 percent). Using the data available, we conservatively estimate the incarceration costs for those convicted of improp-er entry and re-entry at more than $7 billion since the start of Operation Streamline in 2005.

This book provides an oral history of the evolution of Operation Stream-line over 10 years and its legacy today. We document the beginnings of Operation Streamline and the evolution of targeted migrant prosecutions. We explore how the program took hold across border districts in distinct ways. We examine how an already politicized issue collided with media hype and, “moral panic” over immigration levels. We describe how ambitious and powerful individuals and agencies within the newly formed Department of Homeland Security launched this huge, targeted prosecution program. We interviewed more than three dozen people who work inside the federal criminal justice system, or who have been impacted by it, for this book. We have attempted to amplify their voices by using their own words as often as possible.

In looking back at 10 years of mass prosecution of migrants, we have an opportunity to examine how and why the program emerged. We can also ex-amine the harm it has caused against the scant evidence that it has achieved the stated goal of deterring migration at the southern border. There exists in the story of migrant prosecutions an intersection where those working for immigrant rights and for criminal justice reform can join hands to work together. Finally, we can find inspiration in the ample opportunities for resistance and in this book we highlight the efforts of those who are organizing to bring an end to prosecution of migrants at the border.

Key Findings

Throughout the book, we found widespread wastefulness — in terms of people’s lives, taxpayer dollars, and court resources — producing few, if any, positive results. It was clear from talking to actors throughout this system that it is broken in every way. Our findings include:
  1. Since 2005, nearly three quarters of a million people, have been prosecuted in our federal courts for the crime of improper migration: 412,240 for improper entry and 317,916 for re-entry. This escalating system of migrant prosecutions is making a significant and growing contribution to mass incarceration, and to overcrowding in our federal prison system.
  2. We conservatively estimate that just the costs entailed by the jail and prison terms that result from criminal prosecutions for improper entry and re-entry total at least $7 billion since A large share of this tax burden produces increased profits for the country’s leading private prison corporations.
  3. Economic circumstances and family responsibilities overwhelming-ly drive improper migration, and there is no convincing evidence that incarceration is a deterrent for people facing these pressures. The resulting human costs to those prosecuted, their families and communities are incalculable.
  4. The system is not seen as effective by most of the judges and lawyers that participate in the process day in and day out. They say that Operation Streamline and the related felony prosecutions are driven by politics, not by good policy.


We recommend that officials with the power to effect change take the fol-lowing actions:
  1. The Attorney General should move to de-prioritize and ultimately end improper entry and re-entry prosecutions.
  2. U.S. Attorneys in the border districts should use their enormous power to deprioritize improper entry and re-entry prosecutions and devote their resources to focus on crimes that threaten public safety and/or cause serious harm to the well-being of our nation.
  3. The U.S. Sentencing Commission should reject any proposed amendments to increase sentences for improper entry and re-entry, and should actively seek to remedy already exorbitant sentences. The base offense level should be reduced so as to decrease sentencing recommendations relative to the many more serious offenses currently assigned to Level 8.
  4. Insofar as the current political climate does not allow for constructive legislative action, members of Congress who comprehend the harms done by these prosecutions should call on the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorneys to end them.

Finally, until the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorneys and the Sentencing Commission take the actions recommended above, we urge that — to the extent that they are not bound by rigid plea agreements or guideline constraints — federal district court and magistrate judges reflect about the inexorable harms these prosecutions visit upon migrants and their families. Understanding that most face immediate removal, judges should give thoughtful consideration of whether “time served” might be the most appropriate sentence.

Click here to read the entire report.