Some legal experts say prosecuting Agriprocessors for more than 9000 counts of child labor law violations will be…
…very difficult for the State of Iowa. Yet the State and the Federal Government may have already worked out a deal to make the prosecution easier.
The Waterloo-Ceder Falls Courier reports:
Prosecuting Agriprocessors difficult, experts say
BY JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD, COURIER STAFF WRITER
WAUKON --- Some legal observers have expressed doubts about the ability of the state to bring underage illegal immigrant workers as witnesses if the case against Agriprocessors executives goes to trial.
But the attorney representing 24 of the children arrested in the raid said she is confident her clients will be available to testify because they are fighting their deportation through slow-moving immigration courts
Sonia Parras-Konrad, a Des Moines immigration attorney, also represents about a dozen women who were conditionally released with electronic ankle bracelets that track their location.
"All of my clients are going to be around for a long time. They are not going anywhere," she said.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller Tuesday filed criminal charges against Agriprocessors owners and four high-level employees.
The state alleges the kosher meatpacking plant in Postville committed 9,311 child labor violations involving 32 workers younger than 18 --- - seven of whom were younger than 16.
The state claims Abraham Aaron Rubashkin, company owner, and his son and former company CEO Sholom Rubashkin knowingly hired underage workers and subjected them to unsafe working conditions.
Also charged are Elizabeth Billmeyer, human resources manager, and Laura Althouse and Karina Freund, middle managers in the human resources department.
Althouse and Freund appeared in federal court Tuesday to face separate charges related to the employment of illegal immigrants.
That the state is even in a position to possibly bring the children as witnesses to a trial appears to be a major break. A child labor expert says one major hurdle in a case like this would be to keep track of the witnesses.
"I think one leg up the state has is that Sonia has kept the kids from dispersing, " said Reid Maki, a child labor specialist for the National Consumers League.
The extraordinary number of charges brought against Agriprocessors --- 9,311 child labor law violations --- could give the state powerful leverage if it decides it wants to try to reach a plea agreement, said Robert Rigg, director of the Criminal Defense Program at Drake University Law School.
But if either side wants to go to court, the trial could be long and drawn out --- a possible advantage to Agriprocessors.
"If I'm the defense lawyer on this, I'm going to dig my heels in and say fine. You filed this long complaint, you're going to have to prove all these," Rigg said. "With several hundred cases and counts, you won't complete these (for years)."
"We look forward to our day in court," said Agriprocessors spokesman Chaim Abrahams has said.
In most cases, the hurdles to bring workers to the stand appear to be formidable, said legal experts critical of the Postville raid.
Because of an unprecedented legal strategy that took a hard line against the illegal immigrant workers by criminalizing them, Rigg said the list of possible witnesses with incentives to stick around for the trial drastically dwindles.
"It's kind of ironic that Agriprocessors' ally in this whole thing may turn out to be the federal government," he said.
The more than 300 illegal immigrants jailed after the raid are sitting in federal prisons as far away as Louisiana. More importantly, they also signed plea agreements ordering their immediate deportation upon release, with no chance for appeal.
In addition, the few who did not plead guilty to criminal charges have already been deported.
If children are brought to the stand, Rigg said, their parents must be notified. But many parents have indicated they want to leave the country with their children as soon as possible.
However, Parras-Konrad said her clients --- the women and children --- are not going anywhere because they were not subject to the jail time and automatic deportation that many men agreed to as part of their guilty plea.
Bob Teig, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office for the northern district of Iowa, dismissed concerns over the ability of a prosecutor to present the illegal immigrants as witnesses.
"I can't get into particulars. But I can say that they aren't the only ones who have thought of that," he said.
If for some reason some of the men serving five month prison sentences are needed to testify, they could be compelled to appear, said David Leopold, vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Assocation.
A government spokesperson testified at a congressional hearing in July about the Postville raid said it is possible for the federal government to hold the workers in custody even after their sentences expire.
However, that option does not sit well with critics of the government's action in Postville. They call it a further erosion of due process rights.
"The government can choose to hold people beyond five months if they want to use them as witnesses. But it would just magnify the travesty of justice if they did that," Leopold said.