Good Friday at Operation Streamline

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Thanks to Kate Blair for sharing her reflection here on the Good Friday stations.

This past Friday I participated in a ceremony that linked an ancient
ceremony with modern realities.

It was Good Friday, and a small group of people from many spiritual
backgrounds gathered in front of the federal court building.  Carol, a
pastor and leader of the Restoration Project, began our ceremony with
a few meditations on how the life and death of Jesus is linked to the
lives and deaths of people who suffer most now, and how the Spirit of
God is most present in all suffering.   To begin, we sat in the shade
on this brilliant sunny day, and meditated on the strength of our
breath: freeing source, constantly calling us in and out of death.  We
reflected on the fall and rise of our bones, always falling into and
away from gravity, allowing us to stand on this earth for a time.

We then began with the first station of the cross,  “Jesus is
condemned to death.”  In hearing this story so many times, the reality
of Jesus’ innocence is something I have not thought about much.  While
his death may have been inevitable, what had he done wrong to deserve
to die right then and in such a terrible way?  In the readings, we
were reminded, “Now the chief priests and the whole council were
looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him
to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came
forward.”   And then goes on to say, “Jesus was silent.”  As would be
many of the immigrants we were about to witness.  Carol’s readings
reminded us, “Jesus stands on trial with immigrants who can’t afford a
lawyer.  Who have no understanding of the legal language in which they
are condemned.  No right to council.  No way out. And no way to
stay…Jesus stands with anyone who faces a life with few choices.  And
Jesus stands with those who face death once they are deported: death
at the hands of violent lovers, homophobic gangs, drug cartels, and
state inflicted violence.”

We walked into the federal court building, a tall, impressive
building.  Lots of windows and high shiny marble pillars seem to
symbolize freedom and expansive openness.  In the lobby, just before
going through the metal detectors, we gathered for another meditation,
“Jesus is denied by Peter.”  Peter had made a promise to stand by
Jesus.  Carol reminded us that a Christian promise made at baptism is
to respect the dignity of every human being, especially those with the
least status and privelage.  We reaffirmed our vows, “Will you strive
for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of
every human being?” “We will with God’s help.”  And then we went
through the metal detectors.

For the next station we stood outside the courtroom, and we reflected
about how Jesus was condemned by Pilate who had also rallied support
of masses of people.  Just as Pilate rallied and tricked crowds of
people and turned them against an innocent Jesus, so have powers (for
example, the Corrections Corporation of America, the government, and
the media) rallied and tricked us and themselves, sending messages
that immigrants are dangerous, to be feared as a whole instead of
understood and respected as individuals. Immigrants, as Jesus,
are/were too upsetting to the powerful: letting them live freely and
fully would cause a social re-ordering, a balancing out: the powerful
would become less so, and the powerless would gain power:  we would
all be equals.  We were reminded that for Jesus and for immigrants,
the powers that be have had already decided the outcome of the trial
before it begins.

Our small group filed into the courtroom and sat in smooth, wooden
pew-like benches.  Freshly pressed suits buzzing with business day
chuckles and chatter contrasted chain shackles rattling on 70
immigrant people, most of whom were silent.  Attention was given to
stacks of important papers.   In the center of the courtoom, behind
where the judge sits is a circular seal where E. Plurbus Unum: The
Many are One, is inscribed, and the image of an eagle hints of soaring
freedom. The snaking ribbon flowing around the eagle image is kind of
like the creature that the eagle eats on the Mexican flag.

Operation Streamline began in Del Rio, Texas in 2005.  According to a
2010 report, Operation Streamline has expanded and now includes Yuma,
AZ (December 2006); Laredo, TX (November 2007); Tucson, AZ (January
2008); and Rio Grande Valley, TX (June 2008) .  It affects many first
time border crossers.   To learn more:
http://www.immigrationforum.org/images/uploads/OperationStreamlineFactsheet.pdf
.  I am learning and hoping to find out more information about
Operation Streamline and have wondered if anyone knows how many states
it is currently happening in? I have been searching but haven´t been
able to find that yet.

The 2005 CBP (Border Patrol) report about it is meant to sound
reassuring :  “Securing our nation’s borders from a potential
terrorist threat and from the illegal entry of people, weapons and
drugs is absolutely paramount,” stated David Aguilar, Chief of CBP’s
Border Patrol. “Through Operation Streamline II, we are able to target
a federal government offensive in the Del Rio area intended to
dramatically reduce illegal activity and deter future activity.”
While of course security is important, this quote and the process it
supports leave out much of the complexity of interrelated security and
immigration issues.  We can be talked into thinking we will be more
secure by building fences and making policies that wall out our
neighbors, when we need to consider knocking on our neighbor’s doors
and finding out more about who they are, and who we are in
relationship to one another.

At the federal court building in Tucson, over 70 people are
streamlined through a sentence every weekday in 3 hours.  There is
little or no time for neighbor-ish activities like stories or mutual
sharing in these proceedings.

Any three hour ceremony, even an enjoyable one, is hard for me to sit
through without a break.   A three hour ceremony which asks the same 7
questions over and over again, to distinct people, yet allowing very
little room for variation, specifics, and humanity, is painful.  Then
I imagine going through it in chains on my ankles, waist, and wrists.
As I sat, the chains’ constant clinking reminded me of my own freedom
to scratch my nose, uncross or re-cross my legs, stretch, lean over
and whisper to the person next to me.  I wondered how to keep the
promised I had just re-affirmed: ”Will you strive for justice and
peace and respect the dignity of every human being?”  “We will with
God’s help.”  While I sat in this degrading ceremony, my instinct was
telling me to make a scene, disrupt the process, cause some peaceful
yet constructive chaos!   To do something! But, I sat and listened,
silent as the immigrants.  Since Friday, I’ve been reading some
others’ blogs and writings about their experience watching operation
streamline:  Many feel the same way I do, yet we all seem to lack a
way to end this degrading process, and transform together with a new
way of relating for peace, security, and freedom.

Many Federal Judges and Federal Defenders on different sides of the
liberal and conservative spectrum are frustrated with the Operation
Streamline –  it takes they and their time away from more important
and more serious cases.  Others who work for the courts don’t feel
right about it, but they are just taking orders from above and doing
their job.

Others think it is the right thing to do, for national security
reasons.  I worry that they have heard and heeded the messages to fear
all others, and forgotten that blanket generalizations are not true,
fair or American.  Others in power such as those part of the
Corrections Corporation of America are making a lot of money off of
this process, and so they want to keep that fearful energy going:  I
recently learned that the average payment per immigrant to the private
prison industry is over $2000 per month.  And that money is paid by
federal tax money to ICE and then to the Corrections Corporation of
America. This is something I am also in the process of learning about,
and want to keep learning more in order to be part of the re-imagining
of a new, freeing system.

At the beginning of the proceedings, the judge reminded all of the
immigrants on trial that they each had the right to an individual
trial.  They had all been advised by their lawyer to waive that right:
it would lead to more uncertainty and more jail time.  So when we
heard the following questions, all the immigrants answered with the
same or almost the same answers, streamlined through a system in a
country that prides itself on its due process.  After going through
these proceedings, the average sentence for the 73 immigrants that day
was over 100 days in detention followed by deportation for 10 years.

This is what we heard, over and over, asked to groups of several
immigrants at a time.

1.) Do you understand the charge against you and the maximum penalty?
           2.) Do you understand your right to a trial?
3.) Are you willing to give up that right and plea guilty?
4.) Of what country are you a citizen?
 5.) On about _date_, did you enter into Southern Arizona from Mexico?
 6.) Did you come through a port of entry?
7.) How do you plead to the charge of illegal entry, guilty or not guilty?

Each immigrant answered the questions in the same way: Si, si, si,
until the 4th question.  When asked what country they were from, many
of the immigrants responded with which Mexican state they are from,
which led me to wonder, what else is getting lost in translation?  The
immigrants all wear headphones, and so they hear the interpretor, but
the rest of the room does not.  It happens so quickly, I wonder if
they all really do understand what is going on, or if they are just as
eager as everyone else to get this whole thing over with.  The fifth
question is responded to with Si, as well as the 6th, and then for
number 7, all immigrants plead guilty, as they have been advised by
their lawyer.

Thank you, and then the next.  Whoever made up this set of questions
was thinking efficiently but maybe not so effectively.   The process
that lives up to its snazzy name, Operation Streamline, is getting a
job done, quickly and dangerously so, because it is not the right job.
 We have different work to do, as Americans of Central and South and
North America and as citizens of the world   And the Americans of the
U.S. have a unique responsibility to create and enter into a new,
creative and collaborative process that is effective:  With an
effective creative process, we’d be doing what Americans of the U.S.
have not yet done:  Create a land of the free.  We’re going to have to
be brave, too, because we’re up against many messages of fear.

And so we counteract those messages of fear with heavy doses of
courage, and ample spaces to connect to each other in community.   We
collaborate, realizing what we gain and need from each other, and I
don’t mean cheap labor, although imagine our lives change without it.
We create together in a effective way: innovative, new, challenging;
requiring hard work, perseverance, and openness to new frontiers.  We
listen, both to the stories of our neighbors, and our own.   We
realize shifting power begins partly with shifting perception.   If
viewed from different perspectives, immigrants and immigration issues
might be much less of a problem and much more of a complex and
wondrous blessing than we think.  We start to shift together so we all
become equal.  Equal yet distinct, each bringing our perspective, each
willing to be transformed by each other, each willing to join together
to stamp out fear and live in courageous freedom. We use our gifts and
present possibilities to put the brokenness together in a colorful
myriad.

After Operation Streamline, we went to the next station of the cross,
the Greyhound bus station, where immigrants who have been released on
bond are dropped off.  Most often, the immigrants have never been to
Tucson.  ICE gives them a plastic garbage bag to keep their personal
belongings.  They don’t have a phone or food most of the time.  They
do have stories with many variations, as we all do.  When I have
volunteered with Casa Mariposa friends to go to the bus station, we
bring the things people might need: food, a cell phone, sweaters, a
water bottle, a duffle bag or reusable grocery bag.  But often what
people need most is someone who will listen and hear a bit of their
story: Each person I have met there shares a bit of their unique
stories, struggles, and dreams.

As we stood and reflected at the bus station, I remembered a
conversation with an immigrant man who I recently met just after he
was released from immigration detention.  This man told me he had
lived and worked in the U.S. for 17 years, but had been caught by ICE
a few different times while traveling back and forth to visit family
in Mexico.  He explained how in the last months which he had spent in
detention, he met some people who had suffered much more than himself.
 He said, “some of those immigrants, they suffer doubly, or triply, or
even more.  First in their own country in poverty and very hard
conditions, next on their journey through the desert where they can be
raped or killed or abused, then in the U.S. in their work when they
often work for almost nothing, and then in detention.”  And so while
we debate or wonder what to do about immigrants and immigration, we
might stop and remember those people who suffer most.

We left the bus station and went to El Tiradito Shrine, where we left
tiny prayers and candles to lift up those immigrants who have suffered
most.  El Tiradito means the castway.

Then we ended at St. Andrew’s church.  Small candle flames alive with
light, contained in a vessel, like our own bodies.  A branch shaped as
a cross.  Friends.  Music.  Listening, resting, being, breathing death
and life.

When a friend and I left the church, we saw a swallowtail butterfly,
happily and freely flying on a flowering tree.  She let us come very
close, so we could see her shockingly bright blue spots contrast her
yellow wings the same way the sun and sky shine off each other on a
bright spring day.  Symbol of life, freedom, happiness, and hope.
Thinking about many people who are in cells without light and color
changed the way I saw this creature, yet as we walked into the light,
I was and am grateful for the small but significant sign of hope.

Carol has posted the full Stations of the Cross reflection on the
Restoration Project website:
https://restorationproject340.wordpress.com/

Some related links to learn more about Operation Streamline.  Please
send links to other information, I am seeking to learn more. Thank
you!

http://www.nacdl.org/champion.aspx?id=23289

http://everybodyeatsnews.com/2012/04/waste-not-a-border-report-on-the-courthouse-in-tucson/

http://ncronline.org/news/immigration-and-church/tougher-immigration-enforcement-ignores-humanitarian-needs-migrants

http://borderbybicycle.blogspot.com/2011/11/operation-streamline.html

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