Critiquing Operation Streamline’s Role in the Mass Criminalization of Immigration

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Starting in the late 1990’s, U.S. immigration policy began categorizing and punishing illegal immigration as a criminal act, penalizing what had solely been a civil offense through the criminal justice system. This shift coincided with the implementation of various systems in the early 2000’s to address rising rates of apprehension and detention at the border. This thesis explores the impact of one of these systems, a judicial procedure in border states known as Operation Streamline. It explores the role of defense lawyers whose clients are parts of mass change of plea and sentencing procedures of up to 70 individuals in one court hearing. Drawing upon recent literature on Streamline, as well as interviews with lawyers familiar with and working in Streamline cases at the border, this thesis illuminates the numerous constraints placed upon lawyers and their clients from a compressed timeline between apprehension and sentencing. This includes the length of time a client must wait in jail for a bench trial, an inability to pay bail, and the irrelevance of an asylum claim within criminal justice procedure. Through this, I place Streamline within a larger narrative in understanding how the act of migration has been criminalized and subsequently punished through our immigration and criminal justice system and how this shift affects lawyers and undocumented immigrants.





Oballe Vasconcellos, Jair (2019). Critiquing Operation Streamline’s Role in the Mass Criminalization of Immigration. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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