Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Operation Streamline Immigration Activists Acquitted of All But Two Charges

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 at 6:09 PM

click to enlarge A man on one of the buses headed to Operation Streamline bowed and thanked the activists during the Oct. 11, 2013 protest. - COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL DAY LABORER ORGANIZING NETWORK
  • Courtesy of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network
  • A man on one of the buses headed to Operation Streamline bowed and thanked the activists during the Oct. 11, 2013 protest.

The immigration rights activists who blocked two buses carrying roughly 70 undocumented men and women to Operation Streamline proceedings two years ago have been acquitted of all but two charges.

It was relieving to hear the good news, but the 12 defendants in court— Gabriel Schivone, Maryada Vallet, Alexandra Nicole Sabo, Angelica Moreno Loreto, Charles Kaufman, Michelle Jahnke, Steve Johnston, Julia Mihich Harden, Sarah Launius, Ethan Beasley, Paula McPheeters and Devora Gonzalez—still wanted to gear the focus back onto the Streamline proceedings and the reasons they feel it's necessary to have actions like the one that occurred Oct. 11, 2013.

"The feeling that I can't escape from is outrage, because Streamline is still going on, it went on today and it's gonna go on tomorrow and the next day and the next month," Schivone said after leaving court. "By putting our bodies, our minds together to figure out how we can stop Streamline and...resist, until the United States obeys international law, until the United States can stop treating people this way."

Schivone didn't testify, but his comrades McPheeters, Launius and Vallet did. At that point only three charges were still alive: obstruction of a highway, being a public nuisance, and resisting arrest—this one was dropped after closing statements. (Defense attorney Margo Cowan argued that merely refusing to unhook the CVP pipes holding them together did not merit that accusation.)

In her testimony, McPheeters, who for 25 years worked as a teacher in public schools in mostly Latino and Native American communities, said she felt morally obligated to participate in the protest that day. She got to know many families affected by the cruelty of the immigration system—there were one too many stories of children wondering if they would see their deported parents again. If she was able to help in any way, she'd do it.

"Operation Streamline denies justice. What it promotes is greed and profit, and seeing the greed and this lack of respect for human lives," she said in court. During the break, she got a phone call from a woman she knows, urging McPheeters to come to today's Streamline because her husband had been apprehended and taken there. He was in Mexico waiting to hear about asylum in the U.S., and couldn't bare being away from his family any longer, so he crossed. 

Cowan showed McPheeters the photo above in the middle of her testimony. He was in one of the Streamline buses.

"He looked down and he bowed and he smiled, it was an act of gratitude," she said. The whole time, McPheeters repeatedly screamed out, "Tu eres mi otro yo," "You are my other self," a phrase her daughter heard in a poem at school. It really got to her, and it sums up her reasons to speak up against the injustices that go on in her surroundings.

click to enlarge Operation Streamline protest trial defendants after hearing they had been acquitted of all but two charges. Their attorney Margo Cowan stands in the far back. - MARIA INÉS TARACENA
  • Maria Inés Taracena
  • Operation Streamline protest trial defendants after hearing they had been acquitted of all but two charges. Their attorney Margo Cowan stands in the far back.

A reminder from my Monday write up:
Operation Streamline began in Del Rio, Texas back in 2005. It made its way to Tucson three years later, and now operates in a total of seven border cities. After migrants are apprehended by the Border Patrol, oftentimes while crossing the Sonoran Desert, some are put in temporary detention facilities and others forced to sign paperwork in English, which they do not understand, resulting in their immediate deportation back to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries.

The ones who are "chosen" to be prosecuted in federal court get less than 20 minutes to talk to a public defender—if you can call them that. These people are shackled and given no option but to plead guilty to illegal entry. Judges sentence them to up to six months in prison, and they are then deported, except now with a federal criminal record. 
For the past two days all Schivone has thought of is these people. He wants to tell the stories of those "violently affected very day" by Streamline. 

On April 13, the group is scheduled to return to court, if the misdemeanor charges of obstructing a highway and being a public nuisance stick, that is. If the judge decides to drop them, there'll be no need to return.

"I'm finding other opportunities, other contexts, continuing to do whatever is possible to draw attention, raising (awareness of) the domestic and political cost of Operation Streamline onto our government, until the burden is too great and they stop it," Schivone said. 

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