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Is Operation Streamline a Billion Dollar Give-away to the Private Prison Industry?

A new “green paper” released on July 19, 2010, entitled Operation Streamline: Drowning Justice and Draining Dollars along the Rio Grande, takes a look at the impact of Operation Streamline on the private prison industry.

Operation Streamline, initiated in 2005 in Del Rio and expanded to much of the Texas and Arizona border, mandates that immigrants apprehended at the border must be detained, prosecuted and incarcerated in the criminal justice system in addition to the civil immigration system. This is a departure from previous policy in which most immigrants were only dealt with in the civil immigration system.

The result has been a mess. In Texas alone, 135,000 immigrants now have criminal records and many have done prison time under Operation Streamline before being deported (far from streamlining the process, the policy adds another layer of incarceration on top of the existing civil detention system). 

While most researchers believe the program hasn’t deterred unauthorized immigration, it has affected the judicial system in serious ways. The federal courts are horrendously over-booked. Fifty-four percent of 2009’s federal prosecutions across the country were for immigration violations. In the Southern District of Texas, a district that includes Houston, a full 84% of prosecutions in April 2010 were for two immigration violations – unauthorized entry (1,325) and unauthorized re-entry (1,326). With a mandated focus on prosecution of immigration violations, diligence to other prosecutions has fallen off dramatically.

So who wins in this scenario? Research indicates that, since 2005, more than $1.2 billion in federal money has been spent on detention and incarceration for unauthorized entry and re-entry in Texas alone. Nearly all is for prison beds – contracted by the U.S. Marshals and federal Bureau of Prisons – at facilities operated by private prison corporations. Prisons like the GEO Group’s Laredo superjail, Emerald’s LaSalle County Detention Center, and LCS’s Coastal Bend Detention Center have sprung up around south and west Texas to win U.S. Marshals contracts, largely driven by increased immigration prosecutions. Could it be that Operation Streamline is a billion dollar give-away to the private prison industry?

The report is available on PLN’s website or at

Bob Libal is the Texas Campaigns Coordinator for Grassroots Leadership and co-author of the Operation Streamline report. This article originally appeared on, and is reprinted with permission

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