Operation Streamline: No Evidence that Criminal Prosecution Deters Migration

Michael Corradini, Jonathan Allen Kringen, Laura Simich, Karen Berberich, & Meredith Emigh
Date of Publication: 
June, 2018
Source Organization: 

Before the so-called "zero-tolerance" policy implemented by the Trump Administration in April of 2018 that mandated criminal prosecution for all immigrants entering the country without authorization, there was a similar policy known as "Operation Streamline," which began in 2005 and continued through 2014. Operation Streamline: No Evidence that Criminal Prosecution Deters Migration examines whether Operation Streamline was effective in curtailing illegal border crossings during this period, a claim that the Trump administration has used to justify its tough stance on border enforcement.

Using monthly apprehension data broken down by border sector, the researchers were able to track immigration flows in sectors implementing Streamline and those that did not. The report concludes that "there is no evidence to support the conclusion that Operation Streamline succeeded in deterring unauthorized border crossings, nor that it had any effect whatsoever on immigrants' decision to come to the United States." Moreover, Operation Streamline, by clogging the federal court system with immigration cases (In 2013, 47 percent of all completed cases in the federal court system were immigration-related), Operation Streamline may have diverted law enforcement and judicial attention away from the activities of violent organized gangs or drug cartels. Moreover, the due process rights of immigrants were effectively compromised, as public defenders (a constitutional requirement for indigent clients in criminal cases) often had to handle hundreds of Streamline defendants in a single day, making it virtually impossible for immigrants to claim equities under the law or to file asylum applications, as required under international treaty obligations. A final perverse result of Operation Streamline may have been to increase the size of the undocumented population in the U.S., as immigrants already resident in the U.S. stayed put, rather than risk the consequences of leaving and not being able to return, and loved ones outside the U.S. tried to cross the border to reunify with family members in the U.S. An apt description of Operation Streamline, according to the authors, might be "deterrence theater." (American Immigrant Policy Portal)


Download now or view online


MCorradini, M., Kringen, J. A., Simich, L., Berberich, K., & Emigh. M. (2018). Operation Streamline: No Evidence that Criminal Prosecution Deters Migration. New York: Vera Institute of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.vera.org/publications/operation-streamline