March 17, 2015 / Modified mar 17, 2015 5:45 p.m.

Judge Drops Most Charges in Trial of Immigration Activists

Twelve protesters still facing charges for obstruction of a highway and public nuisance.

Operation Streamline Protesters Trial 3.17.15 Spot Activists take a photo after judge dismisses five of seven charges against them regarding 2013 protest.
Fernanda Echavarri, AZPM

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Twelve protesters who stopped buses headed for Operation Streamline in 2013 are still facing misdemeanor charges for obstruction of a highway and public nuisance.

Justice of the Peace Susan Bacal dismissed four charges against the group and found protestors not guilty of charges of resisting arrest.

Bacal is expected to decide on the remaining two charges on April 13.

The trial began Monday.

Eighteen people were arrested Oct. 11, 2013 after a group of immigrant rights activists stopped two buses taking 70 suspected undocumented immigrants to federal court for Operation Streamline, a fast-track, mass deportation proceeding.

“Our obligation as Americans is to hold our government accountable,” Margo Cowan, a public defender and activist lawyer representing the group told the judge Monday. “This is not just a collection of petty offenses, it’s not just an inconvenience. It’s something much greater.”

Protesters blocked the westbound Interstate 10 frontage road near 18th Street, stopping the two buses in the roadway.

Twelve people used their bodies to prevent the buses from moving. In groups of three, people encircled the bus tires with their bodies and cylindrical tubes with their arms inside.

Other protesters held signs denouncing Operation Streamline. Some of them were also arrested.

The Tucson Police Department closed the frontage road for several hours and used power tools to cut off the plastic pipes and other materials protesters used to tie themselves to each other, others unhook themselves before being arrested.

Deputy County Attorneys Sabrina Lochner and Rebecca Mueller brought law enforcement officials to the witness stand Monday and the two bus drivers.

Mueller said Tuesday that the state is not seeking to punish the protesters First Amendment right "but it's reckless to stop two buses with detainees and armed guards in the middle of the roadway."

"We are not here to talk about Operation Streamline, but about how the protest was done," she said.

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