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Operation Streamline

Under Operation Streamline, the U.S. started considering first-time illegal border crossing as a criminal offense

Introduced during President George W. Bush’s administration in 2005, Operation Streamline drastically changed the way the United States government prosecutes undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border. Before the operation was introduced, the government prosecuted illegal crossing as a civil offense and practiced a catch and release approach. After Operation Streamline, the U.S. started considering first-time illegal crossing a criminal offense.

Almost every immigrant prosecuted — 99% — due to the operation pleaded guilty to their criminal charge, as it could get them a lesser conviction. For those who were not in the criminal justice system, the maximum sentence was six months in detention. Those with a previous felony conviction could face up to a 10-year sentence.

The operation received plenty of criticism. Some lawyers argued it violated Article 31 of the Convention on the Status of Refugees, which prohibits persecuting illegal crossing or presence as a criminal offense. In 2015, Arizona’s Republican U.S. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain introduced a resolution “regarding the success” of the operation, in which they argued a movement toward “refusing to prosecute first-time illegal border crossers under Operation Streamline will jeopardize border security gains.”

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