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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Immigration Protesters Found Guilty in Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) - Activists who paused fast-track immigration hearings last year by chaining themselves to a courthouse are guilty of disorderly conduct, a federal judge ruled.

Wendy Bedoya, Sandra Garnica, Katerina Sinclair, Walter Staton, Ryan Tombleson and Rachel Winch chained themselves to each other and a fence that surrounds the parking lot for the Evo A. DeConcini U.S. Courthouse in downtown Tucson this time last year as part of a coordinated protest against Operation Streamline.

Other protesters chained themselves to buses holding illegal migrants set for deportation hearings.

Since 2005 Operation Streamline has subjected undocumented aliens to federal criminal prosecution and deportation. The fast-track program, which often features large groups of defendants pleading guilty together, has increased caseloads in many regional district courts and led to thousands of criminal prosecutions.

When the six defendants were chained together last year, wearing yellow shirts that said "Shut Down Streamline," a federal officer allegedly said they would escape prosecution if they unlocked the chain and dispersed

They recounted their refusal on Sept. 22, during a one-day trial before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Bowman.

Police eventually arrested about 17 people, and officials canceled immigration hearings for the rest of the day.

Federal Protective Service Inspector Joe Orozco testified that he "told each of them, one by one, that they were in violation of federal law and that if they left peacefully they would not be prosecuted," a ruling signed on Friday states. "Either the person in the bandana or the person in the straw hat answered that they would only release themselves if Operation Streamline was cancelled."

This and other testimony was enough for Judge Bowman to find the defendants guilty of disorderly conduct on federal property and failure to follow direction of a federal police officer.

"Although the evidence showed that the defendants were not noisy or threatening, their conduct was disorderly and in violation of the law because they unreasonably obstructed the usual use of the federal court parking lot," Bowman wrote. "They disrupted the orderly proceedings of the federal courthouse by denying access to judicial officers and other court employees to the employee parking lot."

Sentencing is set for Oct. 15. The defendants face fines and possible jail time.

Tucson attorney Jeffery Rogers, who represents Bedoya, said he will appeal the ruling.

"We're disappointed and don't believe the government proved its case as evidenced by the fact that none of the officers who testified included any of the elements of the offenses in their police reports," Rogers said in a Tuesday email. "It was only on the day of trial that they first 'remembered' those facts that were not included in any of their reports. We believe the judge's decision is wrong as a matter of law and we intend to appeal the decision to the highest level necessary to achieve justice for our clients."

"Our clients were successful in shutting down Streamline for one day and we will not rest until this horrific program is shutdown forever and our clients are exonerated of all wrong doing," he added.

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