270 Agriprocessors detainees sentenced to five months in federal prison

I did a double take when I saw this article.  The May 12 Agriprocessors immigration raid, the largest single site raid in U.S. history, has certainly come under a lot of scrutiny in the past couple of weeks.  Stories of abusive and dangerous working conditions at the plant continue to surface.  And of course, there’s the symbolism of rounding the immigrants up and “processing” them at the National Cattle Congress grounds in Iowa.

But this really takes the cake.  How can it be that 270 immigrants were raided, arrested, prosecuted in a makeshift federal court (on the Cattle grounds, naturally), and sentenced to five months in federal prison…all in a 12 day period

via NY Times

WATERLOO, Iowa — In temporary courtrooms at a fairgrounds here, 270 illegal immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents.

The prosecutions, which ended Friday, signal a sharp escalation in the Bush administration’s crackdown on illegal workers, with prosecutors bringing tough federal criminal charges against most of the immigrants arrested in a May 12 raid. Until now, unauthorized workers have generally been detained by immigration officials for civil violations and rapidly deported.

The convicted immigrants were among 389 workers detained at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in nearby Postville in a raid that federal officials called the largest criminal enforcement operation ever carried out by immigration authorities at a workplace. […]

The unusually swift proceedings, in which 297 immigrants pleaded guilty and were sentenced in four days, were criticized by criminal defense lawyers, who warned of violations of due process. Twenty-seven immigrants received probation. The American Immigration Lawyers Association protested that the workers had been denied meetings with immigration lawyers and that their claims under immigration law had been swept aside in unusual and speedy plea agreements.

The illegal immigrants, most from Guatemala, filed into the courtrooms in groups of 10, their hands and feet shackled. One by one, they entered guilty pleas through a Spanish interpreter, admitting they had taken jobs using fraudulent Social Security cards or immigration documents. Moments later, they moved to another courtroom for sentencing.

The pleas were part of a deal worked out with prosecutors to avoid even more serious charges. Most immigrants agreed to immediate deportation after they serve five months in prison…If the immigrants did not plead guilty, Mr. Dummermuth said he would try them on felony identity theft charges that carry a mandatory two-year minimum jail sentence. In many cases, court documents show, the immigrants were working under real Social Security numbers or immigration visas, known as green cards, that belonged to other people.

So if the immigrants even tried to defend themselves, they were threatened with a minimum of two years in prison?  How is that justice?  How is that constitutional?

All but a handful of the workers here had no criminal record, court documents showed.

“My family is worried in Guatemala,” one defendant, Erick Tajtaj, entreated the federal district judge who sentenced him, Mark W. Bennett. “I ask that you deport us as soon as possible, that you do us that kindness so we can be together again with our families.”

No charges have been brought against managers or owners at Agriprocessors, but there were indications that prosecutors were also preparing a case against the company. In pleading guilty, immigrants had to agree to cooperate with any investigation. […]

Since 2004, the plant has faced repeated sanctions for environmental and worker safety violations. It was the focus of a 2006 exposé in The Jewish Daily Forward and a commission of inquiry that year by Conservative Jewish leaders.

In Postville, workers from the plant, still feeling aftershocks from the raid, said conditions there were often harsh. In interviews, they said they were often required to work overtime and night shifts, sometimes up to 14 hours a day, but were not consistently paid for the overtime. […]

Robert Rigg, a Drake University law professor who is president of the Iowa Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said his group was not consulted when prosecutors and court officials began to make plans, starting in December, for the mass proceedings.

“You really are force feeding the system just to churn these people out,” Mr. Rigg said.

Kathleen Campbell Walker, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that intricate issues could arise in some cases, for example where immigrants had children and spouses who were legal residents or United States citizens. Those issues “could not be even cursorily addressed in the time frame being forced upon these individuals and their overburdened counsel.”

Linda R. Reade, the chief judge who approved the emergency court setup, said she was confident there had been no rush to justice. In an interview, Judge Reade said prosecutors had organized the immigrants’ detention to make it easy for their lawyers to meet with them. The prosecutors, she said, “have tried to be fair in their charging.”

The immigration lawyers, Judge Reade said, “do not understand the federal criminal process as it relates to immigration charges.”  [emphasis added]

As Economist’s View pointed out, how can Judge Reade deem these proceedings fair if the immigration lawyers didn’t “understand the federal criminal process as it relates to immigration charges”?

How can the immigrants’ lawyers possibly prepare for the trials of almost 300 individuals (with 300 different backgrounds and circumstances) in less than twelve days? 

Many immigrants already don’t go to the police when confronted with violence/crime due to fear that they’ll be deported.  Do you really think they’ll try to appeal this gross violation of due process when confronted with two years in prison on top of imminent deportation?

Why did the Bush administration choose to do this now in their lame duck period? 

The article also points out that the planning for these proceedings started back in December.  They didn’t know the exact identities of the people they would be arresting in the raid, they didn’t know each individual’s circumstances, and yet they knew they’d be doing enough sentencing to warrant setting up a sentencing court to process all these people on the same day as their trial?  That doesn’t sound very “innocent until proven guilty,” huh? 

This was never going to be fair from the start.  It’s not even “guilty until proven innocent,” because the immigrants were silenced with the threat of two year imprisonment.

What the hell is wrong with this country?


About Melissa

I love donuts. Chocolate iced, hold the sprinkles.
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7 Responses to 270 Agriprocessors detainees sentenced to five months in federal prison

  1. Mary Steele Yorktown VA says:

    I applaud Judge Reade’s handling of the illegal immigrants. It has been proven over and over that allowing them to be released prior to court or deportation is a bad idea, because many do not return. Those that complain about them having legal spouses or children cannot be a huge factor either, it is of their own doing and rewarding them will only encourage others. Cracking down on illegals and employers is an important step in getting back a strong and respected America and a stronger economy, enforce our laws and secure our borders.

    When the illegals took their plea agreements, they knew they were breaking the law by working here illegally, and was given a fair offer. Why would anybody take a chance on 2 years in prison when they can receive 5 months and be sent back to their family, where they want to be? It is important for illegals to get the message that being here illegally has consequences, they have committed felonies in many cases!!! Illegals cost over $338 Billion dollars a year, not including the inflated health care costs passed on from hospitals that have to give free care to them, we are tired of it and want more action. As much as many of us want to help others, there are millions more that want to come here, we can’t help everybody.

    I also applaud the group “You Don’t Speak For Me”. They are American Hispanic legal immigrants and are opposed to amnesty and other benefits that illegals have not earned. La Raza and other such groups should take note, as well as our so-called representatives.

  2. True, they broke the law by using false documents, but:

    1) This wasn’t a crackdown on undocumented workers and their employers. It was a political maneuver targeting the immigrants alone, and none of the employers has yet to be charged with anything. Yet they managed to arrest, try, and sentence 270 in less than 12 days? That’s ridiculous.

    2) They weren’t given a “fair offer.” They were threatened and forced to implicate themselves or face a minimum two year sentence. That’s not justice, that’s threatening weaker parties into submission.

    3) How could their lawyers have compiled complete cases for their 300 defendants in less than 12 days?

    4) You’re building a straw man by bringing in the other arguments like “they have committed felonies.” So have a lot of your white, U.S. compatriots. Take Arizona, for instance. Sheriff Arpaio focused all his energies on capturing undocumented immigrants who had no reason to whatsoever run, while completely ignoring actual felons and criminals who did have warrants out for their arrest.

  3. Rivka Freeman says:

    The employees weren’t given a fair offer. Now Rubashkin isn’t being given a fair chance to survive in prison, his life is actually in danger. If every meat plant in the country were closed down people and the non Jewish world had 60% less access to meat, everyone would really take note, but it’s only a kosher meat plant that is persecuted to such a degree. Yes Agriprocessors produced 60% of the kosher meat in this country. It’s actually a civil rights violation for Jews who want to eat kosher. There are no non Jewish meat plant executives locked up with bail set at 5 million dollars.
    Why is Judge Reade so determined to destroy a Jewish family, business and community?

    [mod note: i edited out the sexist comment at the end. no need for that.]

  4. Dave Seavy says:

    I’ve read through the Postville raid and subsequent “processing” papers, and it’s clear that Reade interjected herself in the plea process before the raid even took place. Reade appears to simply be a prosecutor in a robe, and ignores the Canon of Ethics that judges shouldn’t participate in plea negotiations. It’s clear that if you say something nice about her, she’s all ears. But criticize her, and she acts like you’re a traitor of the US. Personally, I think she ought to be impeached just on the Postville incident alone.

  5. Judge Reade should be impeached.

  6. Bella Lib says:

    It is definitely very obvious that judge Reade is a clear anti semite a hater of the Jews ,who wishes with her whole heart and soul to destroy the Jewish kindess and goodness. The day of truth is very near and she should be more careful with her wicked cruel and hatred actions.

  7. dave says:

    its clear that the truth will come out really soon. reade is clear in the picture from the get go and this will come to hunt her. she did not give Mr Rubashkin a chance to defend him self if you take a few moments and look at the few facts in the trial. to give some1 27 years and the way she did not allow him on bail and made sure the jury only heard what she wanted will all come out to the open

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