Iowa: march protests Postville ICE raid

More than 1,000 people, including Latin American immigrants, Catholic clergy members, rabbis and activists, marched through Postville, Iowa, on July 27 and rallied at the entrance to the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant, where ICE arrested 389 workers on May 12. The march was called to protest working conditions in the plant and to call on Congress to pass legislation granting legal status to unauthorized immigrants. Hundreds of demonstrators came by bus from Chicago and Minneapolis. Four rabbis from Minnesota and Wisconsin attended the march to publicize proposals to revise kosher food certification to include standards of corporate ethics and treatment of workers. The march drew an anti-immigrant counter-protest by about 100 people, organized by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Police reported no incidents. (New York Times, July 28; Des Moines Register, July 28)

On July 24, the House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law held a hearing in Washington to consider whether the 389 workers prosecuted on criminal charges during the Agriprocessors raid had been denied due process. Committee members grilled representatives of ICE and the Department of Justice and heard from experts including Erik Camayd-Freixas, who worked as a certified translator during the legal proceedings that followed the Agriprocessors raid, and David Leopold, national vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who called the way the workers were forced into plea bargains “a national disgrace.” A standing room-only crowd was on hand when the hearing opened. It was followed by a news conference that included Postville priest Paul Ouderkirk and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) president Joe Hansen. (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 25; Committee on the Judiciary press release, July 23)

On July 26, three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus visited Postville and heard three hours of testimony from dozens of workers and community members affected by the raid. Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Joe Baca (D-CA) listened as 17-year-old Gilda Yolanda Ordonez Lopez described being forced to work 12-hour shifts at Agriprocessors with no overtime pay, and as Adolpho Wilson explained how his hand was crushed in an accident involving a meat grinding machine at the plant. (AP, July 26)

On July 31, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that Justice Department officials had assembled a manual in advance of the Agriprocessors raid which appeared designed to speed up the process of obtaining guilty pleas from the arrested Agriprocessors workers on identity theft and related charges. The manual lays out the suggested pleas for the workers, specifies how they should waive their legal rights, and includes detailed scripts for judges and lawyers. Of the 306 workers who were criminally charged, 297 took the plea bargains in order to avoid more serious aggravated identity theft charges which carry a minimum two-year sentence. Refusing the guilty plea would have meant more time in jail awaiting trial. “The government’s tactics really undermined the constitutional protections of due process and presumption of innocence,” ACLU staff attorney Monica Ramirez noted. (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 1) In a widely circulated essay, Camayd-Freixas, the court translator, wrote: “‘Knowingly’ and ‘intent’ are necessary elements of the charges, but most of the clients we interviewed did not even know what a Social Security number was or what purpose it served.” (New America Media, July 11)

From Immigration News Briefs, Aug. 10

See our last posts on the politics of immigration and the struggle in Iowa.