Eight defendants filed into Judge Burkhardt’s courtroom around 2 p.m. Monday – all of them charged with entering the country illegally, a misdemeanor offense. Each defendant was given a pair of headsets so they could listen to the interpreter. In less than an hour, the seven men and one woman were sentenced.
Monday was the first time group hearings have taken place in San Diego as part of “Operation Streamline,” an attempt by the court to curb the time it takes to process misdemeanor cases. Critics call the move assembly-line justice.
Many of the federal defenders representing the defendants had four clients each and three hours total to speak to them and explain the process. The defendants came from a Border Patrol station and, according to their attorneys, some of them hadn’t showered since last Friday and had little to eat.
The ACLU says prosecuting this type of minor offense is creating havoc in the judicial system.
“This is another consequence of the zero-tolerance policy by the attorney general where they are going to prosecute everything even for unlawful entry,” ACLU staff attorney Bardis Vakili told NBC 7.
Operation Streamline was first introduced in Del Rio, Texas and spread over the next three years to every federal court district along the border except California, which has long resisted mass hearings for illegal border crossing.
California adopted the strategy due to an overwhelming amount of immigration caseloads following the implementation of the Trump Administration's zero-tolerance policy in May.
In the Southern District of California, there were no illegal-entry cases in February, only four in March and 16 in April, according to the clerk's office. But when zero tolerance took full effect, the caseload skyrocketed to 513 in May and 821 in June.
The U.S. attorney's office in San Diego said in a statement that it was "committed to securing the border and enforcing criminal immigration laws in a way that respects due process and the dignity of all involved."
In total, more than 40 people were sentenced Monday.