This post is the beginning of an experiment. Recent ethnoGRAPHIC work like Lissa: A Story about Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution by Sherine Hamdy and Coleman Nye, as well as Andrew Causey’s Drawn to See: Drawing as an Ethnographic Method has encouraged me to explore the potentials (and pitfalls) of incorporating drawing into my anthropological life. I have been particularly motivated to explore how drawing can throw some ethnographic light onto situations where other forms of visual documentation are expressly forbidden by state institutions. What I depict below, and what I hope to continue to depict in subsequent posts, is one such case: Operation Streamline trials.
Operation Streamline, which began in 2005, is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security whose central principle is a zero-tolerance approach to undocumented migration into the United States. Streamline has been developed and implemented by the United States as a way to criminalize border crossing, ensuring that those processed through Streamline stand before a criminal court and are deported with a criminal record which can be used against them if they are apprehended while re-crossing the border at a later date.
Streamline proceedings are mass trials, which are open to the general public, where up to 75 people are tried over the course of a few hours. Individuals apprehended for the first time are typically charged with 8 U.S.C. Section 1325: Improper entry by an alien, a federal misdemeanor which carries a maximum sentence of six months. In exchange for a guilty plea (99% of Streamline defendants plead guilty) the court typically sentences first-time offenders to ‘time served’ and they are transferred to immigration authorities for deportation. Repeat crossers receive an additional charge: 8 U.S.C. 1326 — Reentry After Removal, which typically carries a maximum prison sentence of two years. As with first-time crossers, in exchange for a guilty plea to the misdemeanor “improper entry” charge, the court drops the felony and individuals generally serve sentences of up to 180 days.
In June 2018, I, along with colleagues from the University of Arizona, began attending Streamline trials that are held at the U.S. District Court in Tucson. Before 2017, I admittedly didn’t know what Operation Streamline was or how these trials functioned. My colleagues and I began attending in part out of a feeling that these events should be witnessed. In addition, we are all teaching intro to cultural anthropology as part of a summer program at our institution for incoming first-year undergraduate students: courses in which structural violence, the border, and migration appear as prominent themes. We wanted to explore how we could incorporate Streamline into our pedagogy (more on our experiences with this in a future post, I hope).
As my colleague found out one afternoon when a U.S. Marshall yelled at them for having their phone out during the trial, photography, or technology, are heavily discouraged in the courtroom. Leaked photos from mass trials held in Texas highlight that while they may be public, the institution would prefer to keep Streamline behind closed doors, out of the public eye. Since I couldn’t photograph what I was witnessing, I started to draw it. While sitting in the courtroom one afternoon I began to time the length of each individual trial. What I depict below lasted an average of 56 seconds.