Saturday, May 24, 2008
The N.Y. Times reports that In temporary courtrooms at a fairgrounds, 270 undocumented immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents. The prosecutions ended Friday, with prosecutors bringing tough federal criminal charges against most of the immigrants arrested in the May 12 raid. Until now, unauthorized workers have generally been detained for civil violations and deported. The convicted immigrants were among 389 workers detained at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in Postville in a raid that federal officials called the largest criminal enforcement operation ever carried out by immigration authorities at a workplace.
The proceedings were rapid and provoked protest from immigrtaion attorneys:
"The unusually swift proceedings, in which 297 immigrants pleaded guilty and were sentenced in four days, were criticized by criminal defense lawyers, who warned of violations of due process. Twenty-seven immigrants received probation. The American Immigration Lawyers Association protested that the workers had been denied meetings with immigration lawyers and that their claims under immigration law had been swept aside in unusual and speedy plea agreements.
The illegal immigrants, most from Guatemala, filed into the courtrooms in groups of 10, their hands and feet shackled. One by one, they entered guilty pleas through a Spanish interpreter, admitting they had taken jobs using fraudulent Social Security cards or immigration documents. Moments later, they moved to another courtroom for sentencing.
The pleas were part of a deal worked out with prosecutors to avoid even more serious charges. Most immigrants agreed to immediate deportation after they serve five months in prison."
Crimmigration expert Juliet Stumpf (Lewis & ClarK), formerly a civil rights lawyer in the Department of Justice, is quoted in the story: “To my knowledge, the magnitude of these indictments is completely unprecedented.” “It’s the reliance on criminal process here as part of an immigration enforcement action that takes this out of the ordinary, a startling intensification of the criminalization of immigration law.”