Bookmark and Share Home   »  WFP In Your Area  »  New England

Streamlined in Arizona by Martin Lepkowski
Providence Journal, Sunday, June 12, 2011

Every weekday, fifty-two weeks a year, a Federal Court Room in Tucson, AZ is filled with upwards of seventy undocumented immigrants, men & women chained and manacled at the wrist, waist and ankles. This is a court that knows no jury. Ironically, this jury box as well as the rest of the court room is filled with these defendants.

In response to the hundreds of immigrants arrested each day the Department of Homeland Security has instituted a court that “Streamlines” the judicial process.

For every six defendants there is but one Public Defender. These defendants are scattered around the court room making it impossible for their attorneys to meet separately with them, and in fact most attorneys never meet with their clients until the day of their court proceedings.

Defendants approach the bench eight at a time, heads bowed. The judge reads them their rights. However some of these immigrants speak primarily an indigenous language, while others can neither read nor write. Today all seventy of these defendants will plead guilty as charged. However, what these detainees may not know is that by pleading guilty they run the risk of facing serious jail time if ever convicted again of illegally entering the country. This conviction will now be considered a felony.

It has been documented, that in the past five years that the “Streamline” Court has been in place not one case has gone to trial. These court proceedings appear to violate the right to “Due Process”, accepting pleas from defendants who lack understanding of the proceedings and the charges against them.

Today, all seventy defendants were adjudicated in a little over an hour. Sadly, one never got to hear the reason why these immigrants would want to leave their families and trek across a scorching desert where the risk of dying for some is a certainty. Last year alone, according to “No More Deaths” a human rights organization, over 253 immigrants died attempting to cross the border.

The court proceedings over, a tired looking judge approached us. He proceeded to tell us how “fed up” he was with what just transpired in his court. He stated that our Immigration Policy is “chaotic” and that Immigration Reform was needed, but that Congress did not have the political will to pass any meaningful legislation. I pointed out to the judge how our Trade Policies (NAFTA) has helped to contribute to the mass exodus of so many immigrants that pass through his court.

Candidly, the judge stated that there are many vested interests in keeping the present immigration policy in place. He sited as one example the increase in his own court system where court personal has quadrupled in size.

Other vested interests can be found in the increase in the funding of the Border Patrol, the Homeland Security apparatus as well as the privately owned prison system that houses thousands upon thousands of undocumented immigrants with little or no oversite.

There is one particular image of my day in the court of the “Streamlined” that continues to haunt me. It is the face of a man bewildered who looked me in the eye as he filed by. I helplessly gave him thumbs up. He nodded his head and did the same as he slipped away. I never got to hear his story.

The US taxpayers can spend billions of dollars to build walls and prisons but this issue will not go away. What is needed is a just Immigration Reform Policy. We need “Fair Trade Agreements” not “Free Trade Agreements” which continue to impoverish the poor, forcing them to migrate.

Our Congressional Delegation needs to hear from us on the issue of Immigration Reform. The sounds of chains scraping across the floor of our courtrooms demand this of us.

Martin Lepkowski
Witness for Peace
42 Deer Ridge Way
Wakefield, RI 02879
401-783-2425 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 401-783-2425 end_of_the_skype_highlighting