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Feb 19, 2013 8:21 PM by Nathan O'Neal

Protesters criticize 'criminalizing' illegal border crossers

TUCSON - Immigration rights activists led a protest at the federal courthouse downtown over the federal program "Operation Streamline."

It was launched back in 2005, charging every immigrant who crosses the border illegally in the criminal courts instead of civil.

Protesters repeated the message that the program robs immigrants of their rights, including the right to due process.

"What it does is it herds large groups of migrants through the criminal justice process," said Caroline Isaacs, an immigrants' rights activist who participated in the protest.

Dozens of protesters acted out a dramatic courtroom scene, immigrants shackled and tied together, demonstrating the streamlined process. Several groups joined forces to speak out now as a new fear lingers that "Operation Streamline" will expand as part of immigration reform as it takes shape in Congress.

"The immigration system is a civil system, part of the government," Isaacs said, adding: "Part of the federal government to criminalize just the act of border crossing is just a huge misplacement of our justice priorities nationally."

Alma Hernandez is in the process of gaining residency, but she's been detained before.

"Putting me in chains was just like a shock," Hernandez told News 4 Tucson.

Hernandez said the criminalization of crossing the border hits families hardest.

"My kids were going crazy without their mom," Hernandez said, adding: "How do you explain to a four year old that your mom is not a criminal, that she's just illegal?"

News 4 Tucson reached out the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona. They say they're doing their job as just one of several areas affected by this national partnership between the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.

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