Twelve Tucson activists who used their bodies to block two busloads of undocumented immigrants headed to expedited deportation proceedings in 2013 have been convicted of obstructing a highway and causing a public nuisance.
Pima County Justice of the Peace Susan Bacal is expected to dole out sentences in July. The public nuisance charge, a class-two misdemeanor, carries a penalty of up to four months in jail. Obstructing a highway or other public thoroughfare is a class-three misdemeanor, which has a maximum jail sentence of 30 days.
Bacal previously found the activists not guilty of resisting arrest and dismissed four other charges, including criminal trespassing and obstructing government operations, for their part in the demonstration against Operation Streamline, a controversial border-control program that empowers the court to review and sentence immigrants in large groups.
See also: -Flake and McCain Push for "Zero Tolerance" on Illegal Border Crossings -Grinding Justice: Operation Streamline Costs Millions, Tramples the Constitution, Treats Migrants Like Cattle, and Doesn't Work
After receiving the verdict, defendant Gabriel Schivone, a 31-year-old writing tutor at the University of Arizona, said he was "mainly thinking of the immigrants who don't get the privilege of a fair trial."
Under Operation Streamline, established in 2005, border crossers are rounded up in the desert and brought straight to court, chained together at the feet, waist, and hands. They speak with a lawyer and are charged and sentenced in about an hour. More than 45 percent of the immigrants tried and deported in the Southwest have filed through the program since its' kickoff.
"I feel outraged that Operation Streamline happened yesterday," said Shivone, who is the son of Mexican and Italian immigrants and has undocumented family members. "It's happening later today. It just keeps on happening."
He was "aware of the risk of arrest" when he and two other activists wrapped themselves around the front tire of an Operation Streamline bus and bound heir arms together with PVC pipe, he said. Police had to cut them off the vehicle.
"I can tolerate the consequences of my actions," he said. "What would be intolerable to me is doing nothing about this injustice."
Operation Streamline supporters, including U.S. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, credit the program with slowing the flow of illegal immigration. Since 2005, when the Yuma Sheriff's Office adopted a zero-tolerance approach to prosecuting border crossers, the number of immigrants caught illegally crossing into the region has dropped by more than 134,000 to just 6,000 in 2014.
During a visit to the Yuma Sector Border Patrol last week, Flake told the Yuma Sun that keeping Operation Streamline running is his "number-one concern." In response to reports that the U.S. Attorney's Office plans to stop using the program to prosecute first-time offenders, he and McCain pushed through a Senate resolution praising Operation Streamline's success and an amendment to the federal budget that would create a spending-neutral reserve fund to support it.
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"We want to make sure that those consequences continue," he said.
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