There are so many errors of logic and misstatements of fact in this piece, I had to point some of them out. I did so by inserting my comments inside square brackets.
Guest column: Postville raid a waste
ERIK CAMAYD-FREIXAS • Des Moines Register
In the months following the Postville raid, many criticized the government's record of going after poor workers and seldom against managers. Officials justified the raid early on, saying it is standard in law enforcement to press at the bottom and "work your way up in investigations." A year later, it is clear that the feds crushed hundreds of workers and their families, at an unprecedented scale, to build an exemplary immigration case against Sholom Rubashkin. Dropping those charges now as unnecessary makes the raid, in the first place, all the more scandalous.
Workers guilty of nothing more than a civil misdemeanor were criminalized with felony identity theft statutes disallowed a year later by the U.S. Supreme Court.
They were pressed to plead guilty and serve five to 12 months in prison or face a maximum of 10 years and a $250,000 fine at trial. Their plea agreement required cooperation, subject to revoking their three years of supervised release. So after serving their five-month sentence, the ordeal continued for some 40 of the "convicts" recalled against their will as material witnesses in the charges now being dropped.
After more than a year in legal limbo and electronic shackles, with the families they supported suffering severe hardship in some of the poorest villages in the hemisphere, those who are not granted a trafficking or abuse victim's visa will be deported. Their testimony is no longer needed. Their criminalization, and the raid itself, were unnecessary.
In the July 2008 congressional hearing on Postville, Department of Justice representative Deborah Rhodes testified that the Iowa prosecutors' decision to charge them criminally was primarily to "obtain cooperation" against the employer. Rhodes even cited a Nebraska case against a corporation, dismissed "precisely because the workers were no longer available." Instead of deporting them, they had to be criminalized and incarcerated for five months, while the government decided "who would be the best witnesses." U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, asked: "So it may be the government's intention to keep these individuals here past their sentence as material witnesses - is that what you are telling me?" Rhodes replied: "I can't speak to that."
Yet the government had forced these witnesses to plead guilty to document fraud with "intent to deceive." What possible value could their testimonies have? And why these particular 40 witnesses? Their only use would be to match them up with the 96 false IDs officials recovered from the human-resources office the night of the raid. But here is another Catch 22: The false IDs in the employer's possession constituted exculpatory evidence for the workers. The government withheld this evidence until the workers were convicted; then brought it out against the employer. In short, who was deceiving whom?
["Withheld" is a very strong word. The fast track prosecution of the workers meant that their court proceedings were over a few days after the raid. The government seized a lot of evidence on the day of the raid and then again at least once later. But evidence seized in this manner has to be catalogued and indexed. That takes time, and as far as I know, there is no evidence that the US Attorney's office had any idea that specific evidence existed until well after the workers were in prison. If there had been no fast track process, this evidence would have been known to both th eUS Attorney and the defense before any trial or plea bargain. – Shmarya.]
There is wisdom in trying Rubashkin on financial fraud charges first, rather than opening the Pandora's box of a messy immigration case. His conviction on fraud charges carries a longer sentence than the dismissed immigration charges ever would. We can appreciate the math, but the fact remains that the raid, prosecution, incarceration and suffering of hundreds of exploited workers and their families turned out to be not only unnecessary, but counterproductive. [Of course, if Rubashkin had not been convicted on the fraud charges, this would not be true – in other words, hindsight is 20/20, but before the fact, there was no way for the government to know that–Shmarya.]
Several of Rubashkin's fraud counts were said to be premised upon making false statements to the bank with regard to harboring undocumented aliens. Yet the workers have always maintained that everyone in the small town knew they were undocumented. [The bank is located in Saint Louis, Missouri, not Postville, Iowa – Shmarya.]
The silenced witnesses did have a story to tell, but it is a story of abuse, wage theft and child labor. More than 20 of the remaining workers have actually received victim's visas on that account.
In the end, neither the immigration nor the financial fraud charges were necessary for proceeding against the employer. Over 9,000 state labor charges were more than enough [those are the child labor charges that are due to tried in early 2010 – Shmarya.], but the raid thwarted the state labor investigation, and the feds [i.e., the Bush Administration – Shmarya] never showed any interest in enforcing our nation's labor laws.
The exemplary message to employers: It's OK to abuse human beings, so long as you don't lie to the bank. And once again, the long-suffering workers and their inconvenient stories will not have their day in court.
[This appears to be false. Agriprocessors' manager Brent Beebe's immigration trial is coming in January. I have not seen a witness list, but I would think some of these undocumented workers will testify there. Past that, the message to employers who aggressively violate immigration laws is that government will arrest you, put you on trial and jail you for a very long time. If charging you with fraud leads to a longer sentence and an easier conviction, so be it. You'll still sit in prison. Al Capone did not serve time for murder or liquor law violations – he served time for tax evasion. – Shmarya.]
ERIK CAMAYD-FREIXAS IS A PROFESSOR OF HISPANIC STUDIES AT FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY.