A U.S. congressional subcommittee investigated the federal immigration raid at a kosher slaughterhouse.
In a hearing Thursday, a subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee considered whether law enforcement agencies guaranteed due process of law in its prosecution of 389 illegal workers at the Agriprocessors meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa, May 12.
The raid, said to be the largest single-site workplace raid in American history, led to a “fast-tracked” legal process in which some 300 Spanish-speaking defendants pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to document fraud and identity theft. The bulk were sentenced to five months in jail to be followed by deportation in a legal process completed in less than two weeks.
“I saw the Bill of Rights denied, and it all appeared to be within the framework of the law,” Erik Camayd-Freixas, a certified translator who participated in the legal proceedings, told the committee.
David Leopold, the national vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the committee that defendents were faced with an impossible choice: They either could accept a government plea, serve five months in jail and then be deported, or they could plead not guilty, wait several months for trial and risk a two-year mandatory jail sentence. However that turned out, they ultimately would be deported anyway.
“Faced with the choice of five months in prison and deportation, or six months in prison waiting for a trial which could lead to two years in prison and deportation, what choice did the workers really have?” Leopold said. “The spectacle was a national disgrace.”
House members grilled representatives of the Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the two federal agencies chiefly responsible for the raid and its legal aftermath.
Deborah Rhodes, a senior associate deputy attorney general, told the committee that defendants were permitted to meet with experienced counsel, were given seven days to consider their legal options and that measures were taken to ensure that the charges were understood before the guilty plea was accepted.
“While the sheer number of illegal aliens in this unusual case presented challenges that we do not often face,” Rhodes said, “we believe that the defendants’ constitutional rights were carefully protected and exercised throughout the operation and that each defendant was treated fairly and with respect and dignity.”
A standing room-only crowd was on hand when the hearing opened. It was followed by a news conference that included Father Paul Ouderkirk, a Postville priest who has ministered to many of those affected by the raid, and Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.