As for Dummermuth and the decision to aggressively interpret aggravated identity theft, the court has spoken. Dummermuth was wrong. In fact, he was very wrong. And soon he will no longer be a US Attorney.
Investigate the Postville-raid prosecutions
ERIK CAMAYD-FREIXAS • Des Moines Reigister
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's recommendation of Stephanie Rose for U.S. Attorney in northern Iowa is an opportunity to investigate a cloud of questions about the judicial proceedings arising from the Agriprocessors immigration raid in Postville last May. Otherwise, critics say, Rose's confirmation would constitute a stamp of approval on the Postville debacle.
The fast-track prosecutions of more than 300 detainees have been widely criticized for their abridgement of due process, predetermined orchestration, abusive charges and coercive pleas; the 17 to 1 defendant-to-lawyer ratio; and restriction of immigration counsel.
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Flores-Figueroa v. U.S., which disallowed the type of identity-theft charges used against unknowing workers in Postville, cast an even larger shadow on the affair. Postville workers were threatened with two to 10 years in prison for identity theft to force them, guilty or not, to plead to lesser charges of document fraud, spend five to 12 months in jail and be deported without a hearing, regardless of legal-asylum claims. The Supreme Court ruled this a biased interpretation of the law.
Harkin has defended his recommendation of Rose as a highly qualified and respected 12-year veteran and current deputy criminal chief in the U.S. Attorney's Office, saying she had no role in major policy decisions regarding the Postville raid and prosecutions.
But Rose's high rank and veteran status seem incompatible with noninvolvement. In her July 24, 2008, congressional testimony, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Deborah Rhodes stated that "all charging decisions were made by the career prosecutors in the local office." Rose presided over the May 12 briefing of prospective attorneys in Cedar Rapids, where "defense manuals" scripting the proceedings were distributed. As deputy criminal chief, she played a key on-site role in the prosecutions, as liaison to the defense counsel. She described the operation as "a ton of good work."
Everyone takes credit for Postville but no one takes the responsibility - including the defense bar. Eleven of 18 defenders on the case signed a letter to Harkin vouching for Rose, a peculiar case of the defense and prosecution publicly washing each other's hands.
Smokescreens aside, an investigation is needed to pull back the iron curtain of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Rose herself is not free to dissent or opine. Her only defense, without discrediting her office, is to claim she was just following orders. The investigation would determine whether there was unethical collusion between the U.S. Attorney's Office and the court before the raid.
In addition, affidavits and independent statements by arrested workers recount physical, verbal and mental abuse in pre-court detention, under the watch of federal prosecutors. Workers say they were subjected to sleep deprivation for 48 hours, hunger, and cold; kept on five-point shackles, even to eat and drink; and were taunted, denied counsel and threatened with more prison time if they did not waive grand-jury indictment - a logistical nightmare prosecutors tried to avoid at all costs.
Harkin has not called for an investigation, but made the right arguments when calling for release of classified photos of U.S. troops abusing prisoners. "The public has a right to know what was done by government officials," he said. "It's the very basis of our democracy."
During the raid, 96 false IDs were found stashed at Agriprocessors' human-resources office. This was potentially exculpatory evidence for the workers, since document-fraud statutes require "intent to deceive." The prosecution withheld this evidence until the workers were convicted, then brought it out against the employer.
Rose's office forced 41 workers who had served their sentences to stay in the United States as material witnesses, but made no financial provisions for their keep. The burden fell on the beleaguered community.
The delay also caused witnesses to stay in jail past their sentences. At a women's jail in Tallahassee, Fla., Laura Castillo begged to be deported because her 4-year-old son in Mexico has life-threatening asthma and facial paralysis. Authorities wouldn't let her go back or bring the child to her. Instead, she told me she was put in solitary confinement 11 days past her sentence. She went through two other prisoners before reaching Iowa a month later.
As a witness, she received a temporary work permit, but jobs are scarce. Now she's working at the plant where she was exploited and allegedly sexually harassed. Almost half the witnesses are back at Agriprocessors, against whom they are expected to testify.
ERIK CAMAYD-FREIXAS SERVED AS A COURT-CERTIFIED INTERPRETER FOR HEARINGS INVOLVING THOSE ARRESTED AT AGRIPROCESSORS.