Friday, August 01, 2008

ACLU: Scripts show immigrants pressured at trials

By HENRY C. JACKSON | Associated Press Writer
August 1, 2008

DES MOINES, Iowa - The ACLU is raising questions about documents given to defense attorneys and workers who were arrested in an Immigration raid at an Iowa meatpacking plant.

The documents include scripts for judges and defense lawyers as well as waivers of rights and other documents.

The American Civil Liberties Union charged that the packets show a disregard for due process and proof that the U.S. Attorney's office put pressure on workers to quickly plead guilty. The ACLU obtained the documents from public defenders in Iowa.

"Whether or not they are guilty requires much more careful analysis of the law in each individual case than these documents show existed," said Lucas Guttentag, the ACLU's Immigrant Rights Project Director.

Guttentag said the documents show the U.S. Attorney's office was emphasizing speed in handling the cases.

"This is part of a larger pattern to achieve quick guilty pleas at the expense of fairness and justice," he said.

A phone message left Thursday morning with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Iowa was not immediately returned.

Mark Smith, Iowa's acting public defender, also did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Agents arrested 389 workers in the May 12 raid in Postville at Agriprocessors, the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant. That made it the largest Immigration enforcement operation in U.S. history.

Trials were quickly held about 70 miles away at a fairgrounds in Waterloo, where most pleaded guilty within a week. They are serving sentences in federal prisons outside Iowa before being deported.

The documents provided by the ACLU include a step-by-step script for hearings, with suggested wording by judges, lawyers and the immigrants charged. The packets include waivers -- printed in English and Spanish -- that bar workers from pursuing further legal claims or procedures. Others waive the legal right to a grand jury to determine criminal charges.

One waiver read, "I have been advised that I have the right to insist that any felony charge brought against me in federal court first be presented to a US Grand Jury ... I would like to waive that right, and agree to be prosecuted under information filed against me in this case by the United States Attorney."

Andres Benach, an Immigration lawyer at the Washington-based Maggio & Kattar law firm, said the documents obtained by the ACLU were stunning.

"It looks to me like they arrested people at a meatpacking plant and they -- they were just pushing people through the assembly lines themselves, all prepackaged for detention," said Benach, whose firm specializes in Immigration issues.

Benach said he found the documents deeply troubling because they sped up a process that can vary greatly from person to person.

"Considering the time constraints, considering that each individual has his or her own case and his or her own rights ... this is very troubling," he said. "These aren't the worst convictions. They don't involve guns, they don't involve drugs, they don't involve violence, so there might be forms of reliefs for some of these people and they're saying, 'No, just take the government's word that their isn't."'

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