By: Ariella Cohen
The recent immigration raid at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa and the court’s decision on how to treat the captured immigrants is just one example of a legal but incredibly immoral result. At the Postville meat plant, 390 illegal immigrant workers were arrested for aggravated identity theft and social security fraud. Many of them did not speak English and had obtained their social security cards through the plant. Until recently, these workers would have just been deported. However, under the new system of cracking down on illegal aliens, over 260 of them were charged with serious crimes.
Erik Camayd-Freixas, a professor and court interpreter who translated for many of the illegal immigrants wrote an essay (http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/07/14/opinion/14ed-camayd.pdf) describing the deplorable way these immigrants were treated. He writes that the immigrants were “driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10.”
The courts were not interested in ascertaining if the immigrants had actually violated 18 USC §1028(a) which specifies “knowingly us[ing] a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit any unlawful activity or felony.” As Dr. Camayd-Freixas explains, “the offense clearly refers to harmful, felonious acts, such as obtaining credit under another person’s identity. Obtaining work, however, is not an ‘unlawful activity.’” In fact, most of the immigrants could not have been charged under this statute for another reason– they did not even know what a social security number was.
Many of the immigrants accepted the plea bargain that the government offered and chose to spend five months in jail instead of taking the risk of being charged with aggravated identity theft and receiving a two year sentence. Many waived their rights only because they did not understand the proceedings. Dr. Camayd-Freixas explains that the plea was coerced. He writes, “‘If you want to see your children or don’t want your family to starve, sign here’ –that is what their deal amounted to.”
Even if this result was legally correct it was blatantly inhumane and immoral. As Dr. Camayd-Freixas concludes, “A line was crossed at Potsville.”