PUERTO ESCONDIDO, MEXICO — One of the nation’s oldest government watchdog groups is calling on the Senate to investigate a controversial mass immigration prosecution and deportation program, arguing that it makes it all but impossible for immigrants to receive a fair trial and violates the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution.
In a July 18 letter, Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said an investigation into the expedited court system known as Operation Streamline, and into the Trump administration’s broader “zero tolerance” immigration policy, is “critical to ensure that the Justice Department acts in accordance with our Constitution and the rule of law.” The letter was sent to Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein and cited a BuzzFeed News story on Operation Streamline hearings as one source of the concerns over the program.
Human rights activists and attorneys have long argued that Operation Streamline’s use of mass hearings and expedited timelines raises serious questions about whether undocumented immigrants are being given basic due process protections.
Those concerns were echoed by Judge Leslie Bowman late last month during a court hearing attended by BuzzFeed News. Bowman, who hears Operation Streamline cases in Tucson, Arizona, acknowledged in open court “that a person could probably make it through the proceedings without a thorough understanding of their rights and the court proceedings.”
In the letter to the Judiciary Committee, Brian argued that a lack of adequate translation services for immigrants, hearings en masse for several immigrants at a time, and limited access to court-appointed attorneys make it nearly impossible for detainees to receive fair trials. “Due to the volume of cases and speed with which they are processed, defense attorneys are severely limited in the quality of counsel they are able to provide, in violation of the Sixth Amendment,” the letter said.
Sarah Turberville, the director of the Project on Government Oversight’s Constitutional Project, said the group is particularly concerned that Operation Streamline could portend a broader erosion of the federal public defender system.
The federal public defender system is “often held up as the gold standard. And while they’re not perfect … they’re leaps and bounds ahead of what we often see in state and local court systems,” Turberville said, adding, “It’s really concerning to watch what is happening on the border where this gold standard has evaporated.”
Turberville also urged opponents of family separation to consider the full scope of immigration policies when proposing new legislation. “All of this is an outgrowth of policies and practices that predate the Trump administration … [but] what the Trump administration has done has taken them to a whole new level,” she said.
Until adequate oversight is conducted, “They really shouldn’t be looking at any substantive legislation on immigration … Right now, we’re looking at a public that is so divided politically, if this could be done in some sort of bipartisan fashion I think it would have a tremendous impact,” Turberville said.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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