By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It's not just the "prison industrial complex" (as some immigrant-rights activists refer to it) that benefits. It's the economies of the cities where Streamline is active.
"It's a job stimulus," Judge Velasco says. "It's tremendous employment for law enforcement, lawyers, marshals and private citizens running private prisons. These policies generate a lot of money. There's a lot of people living well on the war on drugs and aliens."
There's also another calculus to bear in mind: the human suffering of otherwise ordinary people labeled and processed as common criminals.
"This is the least-known part of the militarization of the border," says legal defender Isabel Garcia of Pima County, Arizona, a pro-immigrant firebrand well known from her appearances on CNN and elsewhere.
"Somebody's making money," she adds. "That's what I believe this is all about. But, secondly, right with it, is to criminalize people. Criminalize in the real sense of the word...When you criminalize it with a case, [immigrants] will not be able to come back to the U.S. [legally]." (See "When Streamline Deters," page 17.)
That criminalization is brought full-circle when deportees are dropped off at ports of entry between the U.S. and Mexico, making their way to a network of social service agencies in border towns like Nogales where they can get fed, find a place to stay and catch a cheap bus back to their hometowns.
Spouses caught together on the U.S. side are often separated during the Streamline process. At the Grupos Beta aid station in Nogales, husbands look for their wives, wives seek their husbands.
Their search may be made more difficult because many immigrants do not get their possessions back from Border Patrol, which upon arrest confiscates personal property including cash, vital identification, cell phones, contact numbers and addresses of loved ones.
Some deportees are dropped off at ports of entry far from where they crossed, even in different states, such as California. And the Border Patrol has partnered in the past with other federal agencies to repatriate some migrants by flying them by the planeload to Mexico City, far from the border. That program reportedly costs the United States $15 million a year.
On one hot Saturday afternoon at the Grupos Beta station, a slight young man on the verge of tears came forward to tell his Streamline experience.
The man had been crossing with his wife, five months pregnant, when they were both arrested by the Border Patrol. They'd been heading for Salinas, where they'd hoped to find work in the fields.
He saw her after their capture, but they were separated when he went to court before Judge Velasco, who gave him time served after he pleaded guilty to illegal entry. He had no idea where his wife was, whether she was safe.
After court, the man asked Border Patrol agents present what happened to his wife. All they would tell him was that she already had left.
He has a photo of his wife, a pretty woman with indigenous features. No one at Grupos Beta had seen her yet. He said they're both from Oaxaca. He seemed utterly helpless, distraught.
Complicating matters was the fact his wife gave Border Patrol a different name. A human-rights group later attempted to locate her, with no luck. Like many immigrants who get streamlined, husband and wife have few resources to help them reunite, and are, at least for now, lost to each other.