Assembly Line Justice
Almost 400 undocumented workers, mostly from Guatemala, were arrested at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant near Waterloo, Iowa on May 12. Instead of following the customary practice of deporting them, the Justice Department decided to charge a large number with fraud for falsifying social security numbers in order to be hired. The result was assembly line justice:
During fast-paced hearings in May, 262 of the illegal immigrants pleaded guilty in one week and were sentenced to prison — most for five months ....
The immigrants were threatened with heavier identity theft charges and more time if they didn't promptly accept the government's deal. An interpreter who was horrified by the proceedings is now speaking out. [more ...]
In the essay and an interview, Professor Camayd-Freixas said he was taken aback by the rapid pace of the proceedings and the pressure prosecutors brought to bear on the defendants and their lawyers by pressing criminal charges instead of deporting the workers immediately for immigration violations.
He said defense lawyers had little time or privacy to meet with their court-assigned clients in the first hectic days after the raid. Most of the Guatemalans could not read or write, he said. Most did not understand that they were in criminal court.
The assembly line approach to justice is inconsistent with the individualized assessment of the crime and appropriate punishment that justice demands. The Justice Department's arrogant "take this now or you get worse later" approach was designed to streamline convictions, not to make sure that people were treated fairly.
The essay has provoked new questions about the Agriprocessors proceedings, which had been criticized by criminal defense and immigration lawyers as failing to uphold the immigrants’ right to due process. Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee, said she would hold a hearing on the prosecutions and call Professor Camayd-Freixas as a witness.
The Justice Department argues that no judge rejected any of the guilty pleas, so everything must be fine. That's a shame. The court system is equally at fault for not assuring that defense lawyers, clients, and interpreters all had an adequate amount of time to investigate the charges, to assure that the immigrants understood them and understood the consequences of a guilty plea, and to be certain that each defendant made a voluntary decision not to have a trial.
[Professor Camayd-Freixas] suggested many of the immigrants could not have knowingly committed the crimes in their pleas. “Most of the clients we interviewed did not even know what a Social Security card was or what purpose it served,” he wrote.
He said many immigrants could not distinguish between a Social Security card and a residence visa, known as a green card. They said they had purchased fake documents from smugglers in Postville, or obtained them directly from supervisors at the Agriprocessors plant. Most did not know that the original cards could belong to Americans and legal immigrants, Mr. Camayd-Freixas said.
And what of charges that could be filed against Agriprocessors for employing hundreds of immigrants who lacked valid social security numbers? Two supervisors were recently arrested.
According to the complaint, the workers said that Juan Carlos Guerrero Espinoza told them they had to get new IDs and Social Security numbers in order to continue their work at the plant.
But the supervisors haven't been subjected to the same pressured "rush to justice" tactics as the Guatemalans. Why is that, do you suppose?
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