( – promoted by undercovercalico)
cross posted from The Dream Antilles
The New York Times reports that 270 undocumented workers who were arrested at a meat plant in Iowa in March, instead of being swiftly deported back to Guatemala, have instead been convicted of federal misdemeanors, sentenced to 5 months incarceration, and then will be immediately deported. This marks a lamentable, new, harsher policy toward punishing defenseless undocumented workers who are selected for this special treatment. And, let me say it, it’s a show designed to frighten and threaten and disrupt the other almost 15 million undocumented workers now in the US.
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.
Isn’t that efficient and fast. The poultry workers were arrested on March 12, they pleaded guilty in record time, and they were sentenced in short order. How, you might inquire, did this happen so swiftly? Where was their relentless, publicly funded defense? Where were their trials, their juries, their appeals, the recognition by the defense that these kinds of proceedings need to be fought and fought hard? Answer: none of that happened because the government used threats to cow the accused into pleading guilty.
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. /snip
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.
The hearings took place on the grounds of the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, in mobile trailers and in a dance hall modified with black curtains, beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing several nights until 10. On Wednesday alone, 94 immigrants pleaded guilty and were sentenced, the most sentences in a single day in this northern Iowa district, according to Robert L. Phelps, the clerk of court.
Mr. Arnold, the immigration agent, said the criticism of the proceedings was “the usual spate of false allegations and baseless rumors.”
The US Supreme Court decided many years ago that threatening the accused with much worse punishment and prosecution of much more severe crimes was a permitted tactic of US federal prosecutors. So there was nothing illegal about telling the workers that if they didn’t plead to the misdemeanor and go to jail for 5 months they’d be prosecuted for felonies and go to prison for two years. Either way, the prosecutors said, they’d be deported afterwards.
What’s surprising, though, is that apparently not one of the workers elected to tell prosecutors to shove it, to have a jury trial for the threatened felony in an effort to slow down the greased railroad the feds set up for all of those seized in this case. Put simply, no one resisted, no one called the prosecutor’s bluff. All of those arrested apparently folded quickly.
Now the feds have a “success”, and you can be sure that they’ll try it again, over and over again, across the country. If a chicken plant in Iowa was the first target, who knows what will be next:
Matt M. Dummermuth, the United States attorney for northern Iowa, who oversaw the prosecutions, called the operation an “astonishing success.”
Claude Arnold, a special agent in charge of investigations for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said it showed that federal officials were “committed to enforcing the nation’s immigration laws in the workplace to maintain the integrity of the immigration system.”
How cynical, how frightening this tactic is. The government’s beating up on Guatemalan poultry workers in Iowa doesn’t show that federal officials are “committed to enforcing the nation’s immigration laws…to maintain the integrity of the immigration system.” It shows that the government has launched a campaign of fear and intimidation against the weakest undocumented workers. So much for long forgotten, “compassionate conservatism,” so much for immigration reform. Tell me this draconian policy doesn’t have anything to do with the November election.