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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    actually, (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by cpinva on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 11:09:21 AM EST
    There are many other accounts of that case and other situations of Latinas that make Iowa and its massive agribusinesses sound like stories of slavery on Southern plantations.

    it may well be worse. a good field hand was a valuable capital investment, not one easily disposed of and replaced. the owner had a vested financial interest in keeping that hand at least nominally healthy and working. same thing with skilled craftsmen. the factory doesn't, they just replace them like cogs in a machine, fairly cheaply.

    the slave owner paid all expenses attributable to that slave, the factory owner makes the slave finance itself.

    pretty sweet deal for the factory.

    i'm not defending slavery in the south, merely pointing out the significant differences. it was an abominable institution.

    all that said, my sympathies to the workers; preyed upon by their own countrymen, the factory and now, the DOJ.

    Conyers has the US Attorney in his sites.......... (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by avahome on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 01:36:08 PM EST
    This quote is found in the last paragraph:


    "The assembly-line justice that we heard about today denies people the opportunity to assert asylum claims or get help if they were subjected to human trafficking or other forms of abuse," said Sánchez. "We will be watching to see if the U.S. Attorneys Office in Iowa will pursue the allegations of worker abuse and union-busting by Agriprocessers'management as vigorously as they did these immigrant workers. "

    thanks goodness for Linda Sánchez (D-CA) (none / 0) (#20)
    by bridget on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 02:05:58 PM EST
    one of the few Dems who managed to kick a ueberrightwinger out of office in Orange County.

    Always liked her.

    I appreciate the link - tx a lot.


    The "Assembly Line Justice" aspect of... (none / 0) (#1)
    by skuld1 on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 10:24:04 AM EST
    this is disturbing and must be looked into.

    That being said, ignorance is not a defense in re: to not knowing about falsifying SSNs.

    Who falsified SSNs (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Cream City on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 10:33:31 AM EST
    is not necessarily the immigrants.  I recall cases in my area of employers doing so.  Thus, the rush to justice here may be suspect for many reasons.

    In this case, you're exactly right (none / 0) (#16)
    by DFLer on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 12:50:25 PM EST
    Allegations by immigrants and their support groups in Postville claim that the plant advised them on how to get false papers. See my post below for more info and link.

    Ignorance . . . (none / 0) (#14)
    by txpublicdefender on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 12:37:01 PM EST
    . . . is most certainly a defense to a crime that requires knowledge or an intent to defraud.

    Ignorance of the law (none / 0) (#2)
    by Montague on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 10:25:28 AM EST
    is no excuse. I know I've been told that while growing up in the good ole U.S. of A. Nonetheless, this is just another example of what FUBAR'd relations the U.S. has with so many other countries on the planet.

    Abuses of immigrants in Iowa (none / 0) (#4)
    by Cream City on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 10:38:17 AM EST
    are sadly not new.  A landmark EEOC case in 2002 found against another of these huge agribusinesses whose immigrant women workers were subjected to rape and sexual harassment.  

    And this was just the one that was won.  There are many other accounts of that case and other situations of Latinas that make Iowa and its massive agribusinesses sound like stories of slavery on Southern plantations.

    It is not exclusively... (none / 0) (#6)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 10:47:46 AM EST
    ...an Iowa problem.  The same kind of working conditions and abuses can be found at most any meat packing plant in the US.  

    Similar issues have been seen at the packing plants here in Colorado.  


    Oh, I know. Throughout the Midwest (none / 0) (#11)
    by Cream City on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 11:11:07 AM EST
    states, we see it -- we just saw settlement of a raid on a tortilla factory in my state a few years ago that was the height of injustice and just inane by the feds.  I also have taught children of migrant workers in our canning plants, taught them in summers to try to catch them up, since so many migrate out of our schools from late fall to early April for work elsewhere -- and then return behind other students, so we try to help those in summers if their parents can spare them from babysitting.

    But school districts are cutting back on summer schools for budgetary reasons, but that's another topic.  Anyway, the focus on your Southwest lets off a lot of other regions that also are playing the game of luring immigrants here for our benefit but not stepping up to responsibility for them.

    It's entrapment by employers, and by states looking the other way, if you ask me.  But I'm not a lawyer.:-)

    As for this case, I just was reminded of the Iowa case by the EEOC -- and I know the EEOC lawyers involved, and they tell me that Iowa seems to have more problems of this sort.  After all, it is the most agricultural state in the country, and one of the states hard hit by the agribusiness boom -- as well as one of the least diverse states in the country.  So it has to get low-wage workers from somewhere.  


    I agree with you (none / 0) (#8)
    by Montague on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 10:52:08 AM EST
    and yet I have to add, as an Iowa resident for 11 years now (previously having been in San Diego and being very familiar with the Latino culture there), that many of us in Iowa are very welcoming to the Latinos and Chicanos who are settling in Iowa.

    Sometimes I like to tell born-and-bred Iowans, when I sense that they don't approve of the immigrants, that they should remember that the new workers are going to be paying into the Social Security fund and therefore helping to fund the retirement of Iowans such as themselves.  A healthy economy helps all boats to float!

    Iowa has some old-style xenophobia and various -isms but it also has a huge number of forward-thinking and tolerant citizens.


    Question.... (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 10:39:11 AM EST
    Isn't a worker using another person's SS# actually a positive for the person with that SS#?  They get credit for all the hours the other person worked, and will get increased benefits come retirement...right?  

    Not talking about using someone elses number to get a credit card or anything....just to work.

    If you ask me the people issued these numbers owe the convicted a drink or something....they increaed their retirement benefits!

    And since my SS card says the number is not to be used for identification purposes, why is this a crime in the first place?

    Not quite. (none / 0) (#10)
    by TChris on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 11:10:33 AM EST
    Not necessarily a positive since the IRS will get a W-2 showing income that the person with that social security number won't know about and won't report, causing (at the very least) unpleasant confusion come tax time.  And in an employment context, the SS# is used for its intended purpose (collecting payroll taxes) rather than identification.

    Thanks.... (none / 0) (#12)
    by kdog on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 11:30:55 AM EST
    figured I had to be missing something.

    So I guess the trick is when making up a SS#, make sure it's not assigned...that should keep ya out of identity theft trouble at least.

    I find the whole "identity theft" thing kinda funny myself...I can't speak for anybody else, but my identity has nothing to do with a 9 digit government assigned number.


    There is a difference between identity theft (none / 0) (#7)
    by JSN on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 10:51:17 AM EST
    and using a non-valid SSN. It is not that difficult to screen
    a set of SSNs for non-valid numbers but that is seldom done.

    I screened the SSNs for persons booked at my county jail and found that about 5% were non-valid. Those that were using a a valid number assigned to another person (identity theft) would not have been detected by the screening. In both cases they were using a number that was not assigned to them and I thought it was clear that is a crime but I was just informed that a federal judge does  not think  so.

    The entire Agriprocessor case is very suspicious and it has been known for years that there have been a whole set of serious violations that continue unabated. I would not be surprised if the were charges of corrupt practices.

    I thought some were using ss numbers of (none / 0) (#19)
    by nycstray on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 02:01:46 PM EST
    deceased people? It was a west coast bust that I 'thought' I heard this.

    In Tenn, they are saying it may not be illegal.


    Haven't you heard? (none / 0) (#13)
    by dianem on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 12:07:07 PM EST
    Due Process only applies to legal residents and citizens - and the legal resident part is iffy. These guys are lucky they didn't end up at Guantanemo. I'm not being snarky, here. They seriously are lucky that they didn't end up being taken to some place very much like Guantanemo, where they could become "forgotten".

    Postville Iowa -there's something bad in this town (none / 0) (#15)
    by DFLer on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 12:45:51 PM EST
    There's been many stories about this plant in the Strib. Guatemalan workers tell stories of promises by Agriprocessors of free rent, food and a good job. Instead, they claimed, they found a filthy, expensive apartments and mandatory 14-hour days.

    Workers openly say they were advised by the plant on how to get false documents.

    Some Jewish groups in MN have called for a boycott on Agriprocessors (kosher meats), and many more nationally are debating it.

    Then there are Agriprocessors' new hires

    , whites and African-Americans, who arrived on the bus. They said they'd been promised a $100 advance, but few of them got it. So their first stop was the food shelf.

    Diane Morris, who was living in a Texas homeless shelter, said the company promised a free furnished apartment for a month. Instead, she was put in a four-bedroom house with 10 men, she said. "Everywhere I've been I've been sexually approached," she said.

    She claims she was fired after two days when she went to the company clinic for medications for a mental illness.

    This is absolutely heartbreaking (none / 0) (#17)
    by bridget on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 01:26:41 PM EST
    whenever I read about this kind of treatment I feel more scared than the last time ... for the illegal immigrants who don't know what happens to them and than for everyone else.

    Who among those in power has shown compassion in these situations and spoke out against this kind of injustic? Any Big Dems cared at all for the illegal immigrants?

    How about Obama?

    Doesn't a criminal record (none / 0) (#21)
    by Fabian on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 02:08:16 PM EST
    have consequences wrt citizenship and Homeland Security/Immigration status?

    It sounds like they were essentially saying "Get out and stay out!".  The authorities didn't have to charge them, but there's nothing to stop them from enforcing the laws either.

    Assembly Line - Workstation speed (none / 0) (#22)
    by pop on Thu Nov 20, 2008 at 11:02:43 AM EST
    My email is :  pop2569@yahoo.ca

    I'm studying Indstrial engineering - I've an exam next week - and there is a question in last year exam about worstation speed @ assembly line, Could anyone help me?

    The Question is :

    The average operator performs at 100% (Average Pace) and the range of performance is from 60% to 140% - The distribution assumed to be normal
    If the slow operator defined at 85% operator -

    1. Determine the station speed at which the assembly line should be set ( Z value for 85% or 15% = 1.04 or -1.04 )
    2. If the assembly line is decoupled and the line could be set to average operator - What would be the gain in station speed.

    Please email me the answer
    Thank you.