Visas awarded 20 former Agriprocessors workers under a law that protects crime victims.
Former Agriprocessors workers get good news
Jens Manuel Krogstad, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courrier
POSTVILLE -- The government has awarded 20 former Agriprocessors workers visas under a law that protects crime victims, a decision hailed by immigrant advocates as a major victory.
Advocates say the decisions further prove federal prosecutors oversaw court proceedings last year at the National Cattle Congress that violated people's basic legal rights.
In the past 10 days, the first wave of women and children arrested a year ago at the kosher meatpacking plant in Postville have been granted U-visas by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The permits allow immigrants to legally live and work in the country for four years. In the third year, they may apply for a green card.
"A government entity has found, indeed, that these women and children have been subjected to extreme emotional or physical harm by Agriprocessors," said Sonia Parras-Konrad, a Des Moines attorney who led the effort. "I think this is really big in vindicating and giving them justice. These people have been exploited, have been assaulted, have been humiliated, have been verbally and emotionally abused by this employer."
Maria Gomez, 31, said when Parras-Konrad delivered the news over the phone, she could not catch her breath and could only mumble a quick, "thank you." She had an electronic monitor ankle bracelet removed last week.
"I ran home, and I started to cry for joy," she said.
Most of Gomez's relatives have been deported to Guatemala. She hopes her husband will soon secure a visa. The only reason he was not deported, she said, was because he was not working at the time of the raid.
The law protects victims of crimes such as physical and sexual abuse, extortion and human trafficking, Parras-Konrad said. To be eligible, they must meet several requirements, including assisting authorities with any relevant investigations.
Parras-Konrad, the only attorney in Iowa working on these kinds of cases, said 32 visa applications remain undecided, and none have been rejected. She plans to eventually file applications for family members.
Hundreds of people from across the country, including bilingual attorneys and psychologists with expertise in trauma, contributed to the effort.
Winning the cases, she said, clearly demonstrates many immigrants already deported should have had the opportunity to plead their case for a U-visa.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Teig said the workers were not innocent bystanders: They admitted to using false documents to work in the country illegally.
"The thing being overlooked repeatedly is that they broke the law, and they all admitted it," he said.
Immediately after the raid, several immigration attorneys tried to meet some of the 389 arrested workers at NCC, where they were processed in a temporary federal court. For two days, the prosecutors' argument won out: Their ongoing criminal investigation trumped the immigration attorneys' right to see their clients.
By the time the attorneys gained access, most workers had pleaded guilty under an agreement that used the threat of criminal identity theft -- a tactic ruled unconstitutional last week by the U.S. Supreme Court -- to secure unusually quick mass guilty pleas.
Only the women and children were released on humanitarian grounds.
"That's the sad part of this. I feel we missed a lot of people, not because we didn't want to serve them, but because they were removed and we couldn't get to them on time," Parras-Konrad said.
This means the government (although not necessarily the US Attorney for Northern Iowa) considers these people to be victims of crimes. Those crimes would have been committed by Agriprocessors.
This means civil rights charges can and should be brought against Agriprocessors and the Rubashkins, just as I've written.