May 21, 2013
Profiting From Immigration Injustice
Posted on Feb 14, 2010
By Max Blumenthal
The migrants were finally led out of the courtroom by two marshals, including one who, like some of the lawyers, spent the entire trial tooling around with his cell phone. As the 11 female defendants filed by, they looked toward Garcia and a public defender representing several of them, Yendi Castillo-Reina. One of the migrant women appeared to be no more than 4 foot 10, so small and thin she seemed to be weighed down by the shackles around her wrists, waist and ankles. The women complained to Garcia and Castillo-Reina that they had not had any water in hours.
“They’ve had water. There’s a fountain right outside!” a beefy marshal bellowed.
Castillo-Reina handed me a stack of papers while she chatted with Garcia. It contained the files of the clients assigned to her that day. The file on the first page read: “Elsa Calderon-Diaz, an alien, was found by agents in the United States of America without proper documentation.” Beside the statement was a mug shot of a woman with short black hair and Mayan features—high cheekbones, full lips, thick, straight black hair—that looked especially stark in the black-and-white photocopy. She had come from a small town in Chiapas, the poorest state in Mexico and the home of the now-dormant Zapatista indigenous rebel group. The Border Patrol would decide where the woman went next.
Garcia explained that many of the migrants faced lateral repatriation, a relatively new Border Patrol practice that would take them by bus or a charter flight—chained during transit—to crime-ridden border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Presidio, hundreds of miles away along the Texas border, where they would be simply dumped, far from their families and often with nothing but the tattered clothes on their backs.
“We’ve been saying for as long as I can remember that more enforcement will mean more deaths,” Kat Rodriguez, coordinating organizer for Derechos Humanos Arizona, told me. “All this death is the natural consequence of a failed policy.”
‘We’re All Parasites’
There was agitation in Castillo-Reina’s voice as she spoke to Garcia. “I struggle with this all the time,” I overheard her say. “I’m just conflicted.” It suddenly occurred to me that Garcia and Castillo-Reina were the only Latinas in the room not in chains.
As the courtroom emptied, I walked down a long, empty hallway toward the exit with Castillo-Reina. A mutual friend had told me that unlike Garcia, who helped galvanize the immigrant rights movement in 1997 after a teenage shepherd, Ezequiel Hernandez, was shot to death by U.S. Marines involved in a covert drug interdiction exercise on the border, Castillo-Reina avoided demonstrations and political activity. She had strong convictions but they were closely held.
I asked Castillo-Reina why Streamline has continued to expand even as it failed to demonstrate any practical value. “The only reason I can come up with is that they do this for the benefit of the local economy,” she said in a hushed voice. “Our office size has doubled since Streamline came here, the number of prosecutors is huge, there is an endless supply of criminal defense lawyers in this town; this courthouse is worth 20 million a month for the local economy. And the corporate welfare keeps pouring in. There’s no way in hell the government’s gonna give that up in an economic crisis.”
Castillo-Reina is the daughter of immigrants from Mexico City who moved to Wisconsin to become social workers. She told me that when growing up she got to know the Mexican migrants who flocked to her area during the winter to harvest the pine trees decorating living rooms across America on Christmas Eve. The severe conditions in the migrant camps galvanized her commitment to immigrant rights and eventually propelled her into law school. “I became a lawyer because I watched ‘School [House] Rock,’ ” she reflected. “I believed in the simple things that show taught me about the Constitution.”
But after running up against the draconian immigration system for so long, Castillo-Reina has concluded, “I have no hope. We’re watching an entire class of people get stripped of their constitutional rights, and because of the political climate and the economy, it’s somehow become OK.”
I asked her why she even bothered to participate in Streamline. None of the defendants were able to mount any defense, so what was the point? She paused. Her face began to tremble with emotion. Then tears came pouring from her eyes. “We’re all parasites,” she exclaimed, trying to regain her composure. “But there’s something to bearing witness. If I don’t do this, the reality is somebody else will be in there getting $110 an hour who doesn’t care.”
By now, we were standing outside in the shadow of the towering DeConcini courthouse. Castillo-Reina’s tear-streaked face seemed out of place here. Her outpouring of emotion contrasted with the indifference I had just witnessed in the courtroom. Other than the migrants, who received their sentences with stoic acceptance, hardly anyone in the courtroom seemed to view Streamline as anything more a slight annoyance. For the judge and the marshals, it was another day at the office; for most of the lawyers, it was a chance to make an easy buck; for the prison industry, it has been a cash cow.
Only a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants could put Streamline out of business. But the Congress has been fixated on more consequential matters: While I was in Tucson, members of the House Committee on Homeland Security were engaged in emergency hearings about the Salahis, the notorious White House gate crashers.
1 2 3
Previous item: The Tea Party Movement Is a National Embarrassment
Next item: Calling Dr. Clinton
New and Improved Comments