Dr. Jude Bergkamp Conducts Trauma-Informed Interviews with Immigrants Prosecuted Under “Operation Streamline”

Jude Bergkamp headshotDr. Jude Bergkamp is a forensic psychologist and Chair of the PsyD program at AUS. He is involved with challenging federal immigration policies such as “Operation Streamline,” a U.S. Department of Justice program which fast tracks the prosecution of people accused of unauthorized border crossing and automatically places them in deportation proceedings.

The San Diego chapter of the ACLU released a statement in April about an amicus brief filed by The New York University School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. The amicus, which includes Antioch University, filed the brief on behalf of 42 immigrant rights, community, and nonprofit organizations. The lawsuit challenged “the constitutionality of guilty pleas entered in “Operation Streamline” cases throughout the southwest border.”

Operation Streamline began in 2005, with a zero-tolerance approach, which permitted the Border Patrol to refer 100 percent of apprehended migrants for prosecution. Gradually, the process of Operation Streamline was expanded throughout the U.S.-Mexico border.

Under Operation Streamline, migrants who cross the border for the first time are prosecuted for misdemeanor illegal entry and any migrant who has been deported in the past and attempts to reenter can be charged with felony reentry. With the influx of prosecutions, Streamline defendants appear in court in large groups, an unprecedented hearing format in our criminal justice system. As a result of this process, 99 percent of Streamline defendants plead guilty.

To better understand how Operation Streamline functions and the impact it has on all aspects of the criminal justice system, under the auspices of the Federal Defenders Association Dr. Bergkamp visited San Diego, CA where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has recently implemented a version of the program. Kelle Agassiz, AUS PsyD student and Research Fellow, also made the trip and provided assistance with data collection, analysis, and report writing.

Dr. Bergkamp, who has twenty years of experience conducting trauma-informed interviews in the criminal legal system, observed Streamline court proceedings, interviewed immigrants undergoing detainment and deportation proceedings, and conducted interviews with judges and defense attorneys. He authored a detailed report on the detainees based on these interviews and his observation of the detainment and legal proceedings.

Throughout each of these procedures, several themes arose including impairment due to confinement conditions, shock, and confusion regarding criminal proceedings, and identity incongruence.

Due to the Streamline process, many defendants arrive at their first court hearing sleep deprived, dirty, hungry, and disoriented. One defendant reported that he had spent two weeks detained in the same set of clothes in a cold room where he was unable to shower and was minimally fed.

During Dr. Bergkamp’s interviews, he discovered that most of the immigrants are unaware of this U.S. policy and the extent of the repercussions which result from crossing the border illegally, specifically regarding future efforts to seek asylum.

”We found an identity incongruence,” said Bergkamp.” Defendants spoke about the confusion they experienced when they were detained with known criminals after illegally crossing the border, which they believed was simply an immigration issue. Being criminally charged and not feeling like a criminal result in an identity incongruence.”

In order for judges to process Streamline cases relatively quickly, defendants appear in court in groups and almost always plead guilty, but few migrants are aware of the “collateral consequences” of a criminal conviction should they later wish to obtain lawful immigration status in the U.S.

The impact of migrant families is another significant theme that Dr. Bergkamp observed. Deportation resulting from Operation Streamline has significant costs for families due to forced family separation, including housing instability, economic hardship, mental and emotional health challenges, and reduced school performance.

“Psychological research can offer many important insights into the traumatic effects of our current practices as well as provide guidance on how to craft effective and sustainable governmental and legal policies,” said Bergkamp.

Dr. Bergkamp’s full report is attached to the filing as Appendix B.