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Interpreting Due Process
July 11, 2008 8:30 AM   Subscribe

An Interpreter Speaking Up for Migrants: Erik Camayd-Freixas is a professor and a legal translator who assisted in the fast-track trial and sentencing of the over 400 illegal immigrant workers in Postville, Iowa, who were arrested on criminal charges involving identity theft rather than the usual deportation proceedings. Unusually for a court interpreter, who maintain a strict code of impartiality and neutrality, Camayd-Freixas spoke out, writing "that the immigrant defendants whose words he translated, most of them villagers from Guatemala, did not fully understand the criminal charges they were facing or the rights most of them had waived."

The Times article has a video interview with Camayd-Freixas.

His 14-page essay can be read here (pdf). It is vividly-written:

He stared for a while at the signature page pretending to read it, although I knew he was actually praying for guidance and protection. Before he signed with a scribble, he said: “God knows you are just doing your job to support your families, and that job is to keep me from supporting mine.” There was my conflict of interest, well put by a weeping, illiterate man.

Adding an additional layer of ethical complication is that many of the workers were Mayan Indians from Guatamala -- the people who were victims of a massive genocide in the 1980s.
posted by Forktine (46 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
What I'm wondering is whether Agriprocessors got off scot-free. I'm sure they knowingly employed a lot of illegal workers... it's not exactly a secret in the business.
posted by tinkertown at 8:41 AM on July 11, 2008


What the........ All I've been hearing about prisons over the last few years is how disastrously overcrowded they are. So why are we going to this length to fill our prisons up with people we could easily deport? Makes me wonder how many of these immigrant workers ended up in corporate owned "for profit" prisons.
posted by Ragma at 8:47 AM on July 11, 2008


Excerpt from his essay:

Echoing what I think was the general feeling, one of my fellow interpreters would later
exclaim: “When I saw what it was really about, my heart sank…” Then began the saddest
procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see, because cameras were not
allowed past the perimeter of the compound (only a few journalists came to court the following
days, notepad in hand). 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. They appeared to be uniformly no more than 5 ft. tall, mostly illiterate Guatemalan peasants
with Mayan last names, some being relatives (various Tajtaj, Xicay, Sajché, Sologüí…), some in
tears; others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment. They all spoke Spanish, a few rather
laboriously. It dawned on me that, aside from their nationality, which was imposed on their
people in the 19th century, they too were Native Americans, in shackles. They stood out in stark
racial contrast with the rest of us as they started their slow penguin march across the makeshift
court. “Sad spectacle” I heard a colleague say, reading my mind. They had all waived their right
to be indicted by a grand jury and accepted instead an information or simple charging document
by the U.S. Attorney, hoping to be quickly deported since they had families to support back
home. But it was not to be. They were criminally charged with “aggravated identity theft” and
“Social Security fraud” —charges they did not understand… and, frankly, neither could I.
Everyone wondered how it would all play out.

posted by vacapinta at 8:51 AM on July 11, 2008


Huh. More information about Postville can be found in this book, which is about a large group of Hasidic Jews who moved into the town to open up a kosher slaughterhouse and the culture clash that soon followed. It's an interesting read.
posted by Ms. Saint at 9:03 AM on July 11, 2008


While there is no doubt that this is an unpleasant situation, aren't these people criminals? Aren't they 'breaking into the country?" If it was fully literate Canadians with fake birth certificates who had taken over all the jobs in public schools, would we feel as much sympathy? Is the sympathy at their plight as illegal residents, or at the fact that their own countries are so worth leaving?
posted by ewkpates at 9:09 AM on July 11, 2008


Is the sympathy at their plight as illegal residents, or at the fact that their own countries are so worth leaving?

You may be simplifying a complex issue. Read Camayd-Freixas essay. It is worth reading. One of his allegations is that the government avoids going after dangerous illegal immigrants because they are harder to find. So they "pump up" their numbers by going for easy targets such as meat-processing plants. I'll also quote the last part of the essay:

A line was crossed at Postville. The day after in Des Moines, there was a citizens’ protest
featured in the evening news. With quiet anguish, a mature all-American woman, a mother, said
something striking, as only the plain truth can be. “This is not humane,” she said. “There has to
be a better way.”


What line, you ask? As I said, read the essay.
posted by vacapinta at 9:14 AM on July 11, 2008


"aren't these people criminals? Aren't they breaking into the country?"

I don't see anyone claiming they aren't. But as an American I hope you'd like to see justice rather than this sort of kangaroo court. Would you have more sympathy if it was your mom who was tricked into signing something that would send her to jail for a crime she didn't have any idea she was breaking? I'm asking.

These people aren't going to jail for breaking into the country.
posted by Ragma at 9:19 AM on July 11, 2008


What I'm wondering is whether Agriprocessors got off scot-free. I'm sure they knowingly employed a lot of illegal workers... it's not exactly a secret in the business.

Indeed, it appears most of these workers paperwork was filled out by management since the many of the illegal workers are illiterate. Under those circumstances one might argue that it was management, and not the workers, who committed identity theft.
posted by papercrane at 9:26 AM on July 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'd agree, papercrane, but then I'm not a lawyer...
posted by small_ruminant at 9:37 AM on July 11, 2008


Thanks for this post, by the way, Forktine. It's a very interesting article.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:38 AM on July 11, 2008


papercrane stated:
"...it was management, and not the workers, who committed identity theft."

It usually is. They tell the workers they'll "take care of things" in order to get them working and paid (peanuts) and this is how they "take care of things".

Definitely read the essay. The most important part is that many of these people had no idea what they were waiving or why they were waiving it, thinking they were simply agreeing to be deported for coming into the country the wrong way. Instead, they've been put in prison for what management of the plant did in order to have cheap workers to keep profits up.

Sickening.

Is there anything we can do to encourage justice be served at least to the plant owners/management?
posted by batmonkey at 9:38 AM on July 11, 2008


tinkertown/papercrane - that was my thought as well. According to the first article, it seems like many of the accused got their social security cards from Agriprocessors managers and were not literate enough in English to really understand what the process was. My cynical interpretation of this was that Agriprocessors knew exactly what they were doing, did it on a large scale, and did it in a way that covered their asses should the authorities come knocking - and the authorities have no interest in pursuing them on this, it being much more crowd pleasing to lock up illiterate illegal immigrants.
posted by pascal at 9:41 AM on July 11, 2008


Good essay.

What the........ All I've been hearing about prisons over the last few years is how disastrously overcrowded they are. So why are we going to this length to fill our prisons up with people we could easily deport? Makes me wonder how many of these immigrant workers ended up in corporate owned "for profit" prisons.

Sort of speculating, but I am almost certain that having an identity theft conviction (a felony) on the alien's record will make him inadmissible to enter the country under the Immigration and Nationality Act, for a fairly long period of time. Sort of moot, considering the (I am assuming) extremely low probability that a Guatemalan villager would successfully go through the visa process at any rate, but that's one non-nefarious reason.
posted by jagalt at 9:48 AM on July 11, 2008


If these people were unaware that their employers were undertaking identity theft on their behalf, I can't fathom a reason for them to have been put into the criminal system aside from, as was said above, trying to inflate the numbers to look like ICE is "doing something" while letting the actually dangerous illegal immigrants go on. They thought that by cooperating that they'd just get quickly deported -- and it's a miscarriage of justice that their punishment is so much worse. On the other hand, those who knew that they were working under assumed names with false identities should pay for that crime.

Each and every person in these corporations who knew (or should have known by virtue of being in an executive position) what was going on need to find themselves in these shackles, not the illiterate workers.
posted by chimaera at 9:54 AM on July 11, 2008


"I am almost certain that having an identity theft conviction (a felony) on the alien's record will make him inadmissible to enter the country under the Immigration and Nationality Act"

Agreed. But the jail time seems like a dumb idea. That's our tax money swirling down the toilet there. Even if illegal immigration is the great Satan it's being portrayed as, I'd rather have that tax money spent on something more productive and less draconian.
posted by Ragma at 10:19 AM on July 11, 2008


aren't these people criminals? Aren't they 'breaking into the country?"

That misses the point of the essay and the article, I think. (Well, we are both missing the real point of the article, which is more about the rarity and ethical dilemma of a court translator speaking out, but that's a different issue.)

The point the author is making, as I read it, is that the immigrants may not be guilty of what they are charged with, but were forced to plead guilty. They were given a choice: plead guilty and serve five months, or plead not guilty and wait six to eight months for a trial, at which point you will risk a mandatory two year sentence. That's bad enough, but hey, if they are criminals, then they need the punishment, right?

The complication comes in here:

Created by Congress in an Act of 1998, the new federal offense of identity theft, as described by the DOJ (http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html), bears no relation to the Postville cases. It specifically states: “knowingly uses a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit any unlawful activity or felony” [18 USC §1028(a)]. 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.” No way would a grand jury find probable cause of identity theft here. But with the promise of faster deportation, their ignorance of the legal system, and the limited opportunity to consult with counsel before arraignment, all the workers, without exception, were led to waive their 5th Amendment right to grand jury indictment on felony charges. Waiting for a grand jury meant months in jail on an immigration detainer, without the possibility of bail. So the attorneys could not recommend it as a defense strategy. Similarly, defendants have the right to a status hearing before a judge, to determine probable cause, within ten days of arraignment, but their Plea Agreement offer from the government was only good for... seven days. Passing it up, meant risking 2 years in jail. As a result, the frivolous charge of identity theft was assured never to undergo the judicial test of probable cause. Not only were defendants and judges bound to accept the Plea Agreement, there was also absolutely no defense strategy available to counsel. Once the inflated charge was handed down, all the pieces fell into place like a row of dominoes.

(From pp 10-11 in the essay.)

So -- they were "guilty" of being here illegally, for which the punishment is deportation. However, they were charged with identity theft, which were forced into pleading guilty (in part through violations of due process) to avoid longer jail times and possible high mandatory sentences -- even if you were to guarantee to them that they would be found not guilty at a trial, 6-8 months plus a trial is a lot longer than five months jail starting now; since deportation (once caught) was inevitable, the goal (quite reasonably) of the workers was to minimize their time away from their families.
posted by Forktine at 10:20 AM on July 11, 2008


While there is no doubt that this is an unpleasant situation, aren't these people criminals? Aren't they 'breaking into the country?"

Attitudes like this are part of the problem. Workers are not criminals. They are simply trying to survive and support their families. The US immigration system is obviously broken, in that it does not support sufficient immigration to meet the demand for immigrant workers. This situation is tolerated because it creates a readily available workforce, separated from potential allies in the naturalized population, who are effectively terrorized and incapable of demanding proper wages and conditions. The businesses that employ them reap the benefits of the situation, and don't lobby for real immigration reform. Xenophobia is used to support it; this seems to have become an almost independent entity. Despite rhetoric from right-populists like Lou Dobbs, this is an important part of the one-sided class war that characterizes employment in 21st century America.

The prosecution for "identity theft" is particularly heinous; it is taking a law that is quite legitimate and tarnishing it by applying it for purposes of terrorizing the immigrant workforce.
posted by graymouser at 10:34 AM on July 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


They were given a choice: plead guilty and serve five months, or plead not guilty and wait six to eight months for a trial, at which point you will risk a mandatory two year sentence.

Isn't this always the way plea offers work? You save yourself and the state the hassle of a trial, and you get a lighter sentence. That's not the problem. The problem is that these people were not able to understand what was going on both because of the circumstances and because of the langauge barrier.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:36 AM on July 11, 2008


People seem to get really het up about "illegal immigrants," which, as far as I can tell, is just plain racism, gussied up so imbeciles can wave the flag around and thump their proud American chest. It's not like any red-blooded Americans are going to lower themselves to do the jobs these folks do.

Seeing as the employers of these people are campaign contributors, nothing will ever happen to them.
posted by maxwelton at 10:39 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not like any red-blooded Americans are going to lower themselves to do the jobs these folks do.

I think we're straying a bit from the topic, but I would disagree with this statement. Workers who come here illegally are being taken advantage of and given, in many cases ridiculously illegal wages (a fraction of minimum wage) because they generally feel they have no recourse if they want to stay in the country. Red-blooded Americans have been farm workers, janitors and fast food employees for as long as those industries existed.

It's not the fault of the workers when a company refuses to accede to the "down side" of participating in a market economy and pay what it costs to attract laborers. Less-than-minimum-wage doesn't cut it with "red-blooded Americans," and I don't think that it should.
posted by chimaera at 10:56 AM on July 11, 2008


I get "het up" about illegal immigrants for a lot of reasons that aren't racism, and some of which are highlighted in this article.

If you are here illegally, and you're in these people's position, you're a slave.
You can bullied and blackmailed into doing whatever anyone legal wants.
You will take what they decide to give you, (which, individual unfairness aside, undermines the economy).
You can't unionize.
You can't vote.
You can't go to the police when you're beaten, raped, imprisoned or anything else.

On an even more nuts and bolts level, you won't get the healthcare you need, including vaccinations, which undermines public health at all levels. You probably won't even learn the language that will allow you access to the tools you need if you wanted to. You won't integrate into society. You won't go to school. Your children will likely not go school.

It's a horrible cycle. It's obvious what corporations get out of this arrangement, at least in the short run, but in what possible way is this what America should be about?
posted by small_ruminant at 11:01 AM on July 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


While there is no doubt that this is an unpleasant situation, aren't these people criminals? Aren't they 'breaking into the country?"

Um, no and no.

Look, people break laws all the time. Speeding, parking tickets, etc. That doesn't make people 'criminals' in the sense most people mean. For one thing, not all law-breaking is a crime. Only violation of criminal statutes is a crime. "Breaking into the country" is not a crime, because it is not a felony or misdemeanor to be in the U.S. illegally.

And furthermore, unlike, say, a mugger or a burglar what these people are doing isn't hurting anyone, they're not the "criminals" that people are afraid of in the streets. They are not the "identity thieves" out there stealing money from people and ruining their credit, they're using fake IDs to work. They're not taking anything from anyone.
posted by delmoi at 11:08 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Isn't this always the way plea offers work? You save yourself and the state the hassle of a trial, and you get a lighter sentence. That's not the problem. The problem is that these people were not able to understand what was going on both because of the circumstances and because of the langauge barrier.

That would be true if they weren't persuaded to plead guilty to identity theft - see Forktine's quote above; it looks like they were told to plead guilty to an offense that did not actually apply to their conduct.

Although on re-reading, and having just now looked at 18 U.S.C. 1028(a), I think the author misread the relevant statute, at least based on my cursory reading and without looking at the cross-references. The part he quotes ("knowingly uses a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit any unlawful activity or felony") is not actually part of 1028(a), at least not the latest revision. My guess is that he is referring to 1028(a)(7), which imposes liability on anyone who:

"knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law"

The problem is that this is only one subsection out of several 1028(a) subsections that impose criminal liability, and 1028(a)(1) is almost certainly broad enough to cover the laborers here:

"knowingly and without lawful authority produces an identification document, authentication feature, or a false identification document"

(though "knowingly" may certainly be raised as an issue. There are also some circumstances limitations under 1028(c), but they are broad: interstate commerce / defrauding U.S., so this is likely very easy to satisfy.)

Finally, even under the terms the author is suggesting (i.e. criminal liability is only imposed when the ID is used with intent to commit unlawful activity), I think it's far from clear that they would not be liable under this section: obtaining employment while you are not authorized to work in U.S. strikes me as an unlawful activity. In other words, "obtaining work" is not an unlawful activity; obtaining work when you are not authorized to work is almost certainly is. Though, again, there's certainly questions as to the degree of involvement / control by the owners.
posted by jagalt at 11:12 AM on July 11, 2008


"Breaking into the country" is not a crime, because it is not a felony or misdemeanor to be in the U.S. illegally.

Are you serious? 8 U.S.C. 1325(a):

Any alien who
(1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers
, or
(2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers, or
(3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.
posted by jagalt at 11:18 AM on July 11, 2008


Blah. I may have misread your post, delmoi - 1325 imposes fine/imprisonment, but does not say it is a felony or a misdemeanor. My mistake. (Though Title 18 governs Crime and Criminal procedure, but since 1325(a) does not cite to a particular section, I have no idea what exactly it refers to.)
posted by jagalt at 11:24 AM on July 11, 2008


jagalt: That refers to how they enter, not whether they are here. So for example if someone enters through a regular boarder crossing, and then simply doesn't leave, they are not violating that statute.
posted by delmoi at 11:28 AM on July 11, 2008


Also, I suppose you could say that if you mean "breaking into the country" means crossing the border illegally, then it could be a crime. whereas simply overstaying a visa or something like that wouldn't actually make you a criminal. Since we don't know how exactly these people got across the border, we can't really say they are criminals just because they are here.

Also note that six months is the maximum jail term for the first offense. Anyway, IANAL, but the argument that "Illegal aliens are criminals" really gets on my nerves, because it purposefully involves blurring the line between "illegal" and "criminal"
posted by delmoi at 11:33 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Right, but I am saying that this statute covers the much more typical situation of people entering U.S. unlawfully. You are correct in that it does not apply to those who entered it legally and then did not leave when the visa, etc. expired.
posted by jagalt at 11:38 AM on July 11, 2008


Or I should have hit preview first.
posted by jagalt at 11:39 AM on July 11, 2008


Right, but I am saying that this statute covers the much more typical situation of people entering U.S. unlawfully.

Despite what xenophobes, racists and their allies on the political right would have you believe, that situation is not at all typical. The number of people currently in the United States who entered without inspection is utterly dwarfed by the number of people who entered on a lawfully granted visa and remained beyond their allotted stay. It may also interest you to know that marriage to a US citizen will forgive an overstay, but it will not forgive entry without inspection.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:59 AM on July 11, 2008


Very interesting. I've always thought that U.S only have out a very limited number of visas per year, and given how much people get up in arms about illegal immigration, I thought that illegal entry was much more common. Good information, thanks.
posted by jagalt at 12:20 PM on July 11, 2008


Certain types of visas (most work visas, some types of family-based immigrant visas, etc.) are limited in number, while others are much easier to get. Among the easiest are tourist visas, which grant short stays and don't permit work, but do allow you to enter the United States lawfully. Citizens of several countries don't even need visas at all, and can just show up at the border with a passport.

While we're on the subject, most people who enter without inspection don't even remain in the United States for any extended period of time. The vast majority of them are migrant workers looking for a quick buck doing manual labor. They come across the border, work for a season and then take their earnings back to their families.

Face it: the Great Wall of Mexico is nothing but meaningless pandering to xenophobes and a big giveaway to construction companies.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:55 PM on July 11, 2008


It's not the fault of the workers when a company refuses to accede to the "down side" of participating in a market economy and pay what it costs to attract laborers. Less-than-minimum-wage doesn't cut it with "red-blooded Americans," and I don't think that it should.

This is a good point, and I agree with it, my hyperbole notwithstanding. However, I would posit that the ultimate arbiters of price, the consumer, would not look kindly at all at having to pay for produce, etc., harvested and processed by people making living wages.

It's that many "patriots" see these people as sub-human that gets my goat. I'd do an even swap - every Latin American country gives us everyone who wants to work here, they have to take everyone who gets a boner about patrolling the border as a "minuteman."
posted by maxwelton at 1:00 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


t's a horrible cycle. It's obvious what corporations get out of this arrangement, at least in the short run, but in what possible way is this what America should be about?
posted by small_ruminant at 2:01 PM on July 11


I don't know what it "should" be about. But I suspect capitalism is what it "is" about.
posted by notreally at 2:14 PM on July 11, 2008


Christopher Jencks, The Immigration Charade, New York Review of Books, September 2007:
The federal government's policy of opposing illegal immigration while refusing to enforce laws against hiring illegal immigrants has had huge costs. It has exacerbated popular distrust of the federal government (as indeed it should have). It has also increased hostility to foreigners, especially Mexicans, who are all suspected of having entered the country illegally. To many Americans Washington's failure to control illegal immigration, like its failure to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is just another example of how out of touch, duplicitous, and incompetent federal officials really are. In the short run such views are good for Republicans who want to discredit government and cut federal spending. In the long run, however, extreme distrust of government also precludes sensible policies that even conservatives should favor.

The collapse of this year's bipartisan push for immigration reform suggests that ending the charade will be extremely hard. This should not be the case. Many employers would accept more stringent penalties for hiring illegal immigrants in the future if that were the only way to legalize their current workers, and many immigrant groups would do the same. On the other side, many conservative activists might accept legalization of today's illegal immigrants if that were the only way to ensure a crackdown on hiring illegal immigrants in the future. In principle, therefore, a deal should be possible.

But this deal turns out to have a fatal flaw. Legalization can be implemented within a few years, while penalties for hiring illegal immigrants have to be enforced indefinitely. That means employers get what they want right away, while opponents of illegal immigration have to wait. In view of the federal government's miserable record on enforcement, no sensible conservative—indeed no sensible person of any political persuasion—would now accept mere promises. The conservative mantra is therefore "enforcement first." For many employers that sounds like the road to bankruptcy. They want "legalization first." As long as each side insists on getting what it wants before the other side does, no deal is possible and illegal immigration, with all its unhappy consequences, will persist.
posted by russilwvong at 2:56 PM on July 11, 2008


Here is a follow-up article from the New York Times about the church in Postville that served first as a sanctuary and later as a center of support for the families of those arrested:

By the time Father Ouderkirk extricated himself and reached Postville in the evening, nearly 400 people filled the rotunda and social hall of St. Bridget. They occupied every pew, every aisle, every folding chair, every inch of floor. Children clutched mothers. One girl shook uncontrollably.

A few volunteers from the old Postville, descendants of the Irish and Norwegian immigrants who settled here more than a century ago, set out food. Others took turns standing watch at the church door, as if the sight of an Anglo might somehow dissuade the feared Migra, as the immigrants call Immigration and Customs Enforcement, from invading their sanctuary.

posted by Forktine at 3:59 PM on July 11, 2008


While there is no doubt that this is an unpleasant situation, aren't these people criminals? Aren't they 'breaking into the country?"

They're here illegally but for the most part these illegal immigrants are law abiding residents who just want to earn money and send a portion of it back home to make a better life for their families.

If it was fully literate Canadians with fake birth certificates who had taken over all the jobs in public schools, would we feel as much sympathy?

Yes and no. Yes because they'd be working in a noble line of work and any country always needs more public school teachers. No because canadians have just as much opportunity in Canada to live in a high standard of living. The people coming here illegally are desperate and have no hope in their own country.

Is the sympathy at their plight as illegal residents, or at the fact that their own countries are so worth leaving?

Both.

I realise this is an ad hominem argument but I'll try to make it brief and relevant. The right suck at immigration policy and I'm not sure why. In theory they should be with big business wanting to get cheap labour from people outside the country especially in situations where the labour isn't easily outsourceable. I guess their xenophobic tendencies tend to trump market freedom in this case.
posted by Talez at 4:49 PM on July 11, 2008


I'd do an even swap - every Latin American country gives us everyone who wants to work here, they have to take everyone who gets a boner about patrolling the border as a "minuteman."
posted by maxwelton at 1:00 PM on July 11


God, yes. Most of the "minutemen" are unemployed , uneducated, untrainable, useless white trash. Let me get this straight - at 10:00 am on a Tuesday, I'm at work, hundreds of thousands of "illegals" are at work, and yet you can find a whole posse of fat assholes to take a day trip down to the border to drink beer and play cop?

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I have been a next-door neighbor to undocumented immigrants. I have been a next-door neighbor to a minuteman sympathizer. I will take the immigrants any day, under any circumstances. They work their ass off, they don't bother me, and you don't hear them beating the shit out of their dogs at one in the fucking morning.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:31 PM on July 11, 2008


Some of the first comments asked about whether management will be charged. I read in one of the local papers that two supervisors were charged on the basis of their assistance in (or maybe just outright) identity theft. I hope this is not the end of the investigation into the corporation. The owners and executives, the ones directly profiting from this form of modern-day slavery, should be thrown in prison for at least as long as the combined sentences of their workers and supervisors.

An NYT article linked from the one in the FPP contains a quote that sums up my feelings (and also has some info on the supervisors): "Does anyone really believe that these low-level supervisors acted alone without the knowledge, or even the direction, of the Rubashkins and other senior management?"

For what little it's worth, I heard on a local talk radio show that a manager worked out a deal with a Cedar Rapids used car dealership wherein the dealer would ship all the crap trade-ins he got to this manager who would then, in turn, sell them at unreasonable prices to the undocumented workers knowing that they basically had to have a car to live in rural Iowa and wouldn't be able to get them from anyone honest. The same scams were pulled with housing. I wish that these kinds of people would also spend some time behind bars but am not hopeful. These scumbags have friends and families who can vote in the sheriff and county attorney elections.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:51 PM on July 11, 2008


You probably won't even learn the language that will allow you access to the tools you need if you wanted to. You won't integrate into society. You won't go to school. Your children will likely not go school.

from Forktine's link to a followup story, emphasis mine:

It’s like God saying, ‘I gave you a little practice,’ because this is the worst,” Father Ouderkirk said in an interview late last month at St. Bridget’s. “This has happened after 10 years of stable living. These people were in school. They were achieving. It has ripped the heart out of the community and out of the parish. Probably every child I baptized has been affected.


And thanks for the post, Forktine. Wretched stuff.
posted by generalist at 6:58 AM on July 12, 2008


God, yes. Most of the "minutemen" are unemployed , uneducated, untrainable, useless white trash.

If I called an illegal alien half of this shit, I would get a metatalk thread in less than five minutes and have my comment deleted.
We're all humans, even the people who volunteer for causes we hate.
posted by Joybooth at 1:53 PM on July 12, 2008


Thank you, Forktine, for the post and that incredible excerpt.
posted by noway at 9:49 PM on July 12, 2008


It's now the subject of an editorial in the Times:

No one is denying that the workers were on the wrong side of the law. But there is a profound difference between stealing people’s identities to rob them of money and property, and using false papers to merely get a job. It is a distinction that the Bush administration, goaded by immigration extremists, has willfully ignored. Deporting unauthorized workers is one thing; sending desperate breadwinners to prison, and their families deeper into poverty, is another.
posted by Forktine at 5:51 AM on July 13, 2008


If it was fully literate Canadians with fake birth certificates who had taken over all the jobs
posted by ewkpates at 12:09 PM on July 11


...instead of being put in jail, they'd be deported at their own expense, or, possibly more likely, they'd hire an immigration attorney who would make everything okay.

I'm an immigrant. As a fully literate Canadian married to an American citizen, I've been treated very well by the system, but I've heard some of the stories from the other people my attorney represented. I am fortunate to be well-educated, and to be able to afford a lawyer, and, not insignificantly, to be white.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:28 AM on July 13, 2008


It's unfortunate that the Feds have seen fit to go after the migrants on identity theft charges; what I'd like to see is going after the employers, maybe with a RICO indictment if they thought that they could make it stick.

The ag industries like illegal immigrants because they're cheap and disposable. (I've seen some comparisons that show that hiring illegal immigrants at typical sub-minimum wages is cheaper for the employer than 19th-century chattel slavery would be.) If the apparent cost, which includes the risk of being indicted, were raised substantially, employing illegal labor would no longer be cost-effective. The market for laborers would dry up, and I suspect the majority of them would leave the U.S. for greener pastures.

Going after the workers themselves is a mistake; there's a virtually unlimited supply (at least far in excess of the number that can be rounded up and deported or imprisoned), and most of them seem to have little to lose. More stringent enforcement probably won't dissuade them, and might just make them more vulnerable to predation by employers.

But employers do have a lot to lose. I suspect that it would only take a couple of high-profile disembowelments within the industries where illegal labor use is endemic to kick off some serious reform. Show that using illegal laborers is a ticket to wholesale destruction of your enterprise, and perhaps criminal prosecutions of white-collar supervisors and executives, and suddenly the employers would be falling over themselves to verify the status of their potential workers.

Yes, costs would go up for the American consumer. But the American consumer can't have it both ways: if they want an economy where only legal workers are allowed jobs, one where the labor market will be tight and close to full employment, goods are going to be expensive.

It's a mistake to think that there are any jobs that "[legal] Americans won't do". There are lots of mind-blowingly disgusting jobs that legal workers do every day -- they just demand wages that are commensurate with the job. I'm sure there would be people lining up to pick lettuce or slaughter cows, if the jobs paid $40k+benefits. Probably a lot less than that, given the demise of many other blue-collar industries. But guess what -- if that's the wage that legal workers demand for a particular job, that's the market price, and that's the cost that should be built into the price of the good. If nobody wants to slaughter cattle for minimum wage, beef is going to be more expensive. As it should be.

Once the message has been sent to employers that illegal labor is simply no longer an option, and prices have gone up appropriately to what the legal labor market demands, then it'll be time to have a conversation with the American public over raising immigration limits. But until the illegal market is quashed and prices start to increase, there won't be any public support for increased limits. (But the second prices start to go up, there will be.)

The first step is to stop going after individual workers and start going after the entities who are really responsible for maintaining the illegal labor economy: the employers.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:25 AM on July 16, 2008


Inquiry Finds Under-Age Workers at Meat Plant
"State labor investigators... have asked the attorney general to bring criminal charges against the company for child labor violations... If convicted on criminal charges, the company could face fines of $500,000 to $1 million..."
New York Times, August 6, 2008

posted by blueberry at 7:22 PM on August 6, 2008


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