In Tucson, Arizona, a judge sees up to 75 defendants a day, about five to seven at a time, in hearings that last about two hours. The immigrants show up in the clothes they wore when they were arrested, wearing headphones for translation.
In the McAllen, Texas, federal courthouse 73 people who were cuffed at the ankles lined up in six rows of wood benches. They pleaded guilty at the same time in a morning session last month. About two-thirds were sentenced to the few days of time served. The rest got between 10 and 60 days because they had been previously deported or had criminal convictions.
Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney in San Diego when Streamline began until 2007, said zero-tolerance programs are “ultimately ineffective,” saying they boost conviction numbers but don’t have a proportionate impact on reducing crime.
“The sentences become much shorter to the point where everyone is getting time served or a few weeks in custody, and they’re turned around and come back in again,” she said. “At the end of the day, the system grinds down to a halt and things start deteriorating.”