Postville Part II

As the Democratic National Convention gets underway, DHS continues its campaign to terrorize immigrant communities for the administration's political ends.  Adam Nossiter reports in the NY Times today:

LAUREL, Miss. -- In another large-scale workplace immigration crackdown, federal officials raided a factory here on Monday, detaining at least 350 workers they said were in the country illegally.

Numerous agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement descended on a factory belonging to Howard Industries Inc., which manufactures electrical transformers, among other products.

As of late Monday afternoon, no criminal charges had been filed, said Barbara Gonzalez, an agency spokeswoman, but she said that dozens of workers had been "identified, fingerprinted, interviewed, photographed and processed for removal from the U.S."

The raid follows a similar large-scale immigration operation at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in May when nearly 400 workers were detained. That raid was a significant escalation of the Bush administration's enforcement practices because those detained were not simply deported, as in previous raids, but were imprisoned for months on criminal charges of using false documents.

The mass rapid-fire hearings after the Postville raid took place in a temporary court facility on the grounds of the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa. An interpreter was later sharply critical of the proceedings, saying the immigrants did not understand the charges against them.

The interpreter referenced here is Erik Camayd-Freixas, and you can read his damning account of the Postville debacle here.

The ICE spokeswoman, Ms. Gonzalez, said the workers would be taken to an ICE detention center to "await the outcome of their cases." She said 50 would be "released into the community" instead of being sent to the center, for "humanitarian reasons," including medical difficulties or the need to take care of children.

She said no lawyers were present while the workers were being interrogated. "Everyone will have due process under law," Ms. Gonzalez said.

Ms. Gonzalez may or may not have legal training, but as a government spokesperson, she shouldn't throw around terms like "due process" without knowing what they mean. 

The Sixth Amendment states:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

The guarantees of the Constitution extend to citizens and noncitizens alike within the jurisdiction of the U.S.  DHS maintains that the right to counsel doesn't extend to certain civil contexts, like the interrogation of an immigrant by ICE agents before the charging documents that initiate removal (deportation) proceedings are served. 

However, this is just the time when counsel may be most necessary.  The government has the burden of proving alienage (nationality) in removal proceedings.  Without the presence of counsel, ICE can easily intimidate and pressure immigrants in their custody to divulge this crucial piece of information and other damaging facts.  Even when counsel is present and available, ICE prevents counsel from attending the initial "interview" (interrogation) so they can threaten the detainee outside of counsel's presence.  I've seen this firsthand and can vouch that it is ICE's official policy.    

Then, if what happened at Postville is any guide to what is likely to happen in Mississippi, the government will soon move forward with criminal prosecutions for identity theft in a form of "railroad justice."  At Postville, each 10-20 workers shared one court-appointed attorney.  The prosecution and judge colluded to, for all practical purposes, limit the options available to a plea incurring a 5-month sentence or the risk of a conviction with a mandatory 2-year sentence.  Many of the workers didn't understand what they were pleading to. 

If DHS takes this path again, it will have essentially subverted not only the federal courts' guarantee that counsel be available in civil immigration proceedings, but also the constitutional guarantee to counsel in a criminal prosecution.  DHS has already shown at Postville that they will exploit the grey areas between civil immigration proceedings and criminal proceedings to the full extent possible. 

Ms. Gonzalez either doesn't quite understand what "due process of law" means or else she is deliberately misleading the public. 

Given the track record of government spokespeople under this administration, DHS has not earned the benefit of the doubt. 

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This page contains a single entry by David Bennion published on August 26, 2008 7:50 AM.

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