June 12, 2008

Society of American Law Teachers—SALT—and National Lawyers Guild—NLG—Joint Statement on ICE Immigration Raids and Criminal Immigration Enforcement

Society of American Law Teachers—SALT—and National Lawyers Guild—NLG—Joint Statement on ICE Immigration Raids and Criminal Immigration Enforcement

June 6, 2008


Hazel Weiser, SALT Executive Director, 631 650 2310, hweiser@saltlaw.org

Marjorie Cohn, NLG President, 619 374 6923, marjorie@tjsl.edu

On May 12, 2008, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), now a part of the Department of Homeland Security, conducted the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history at Agriprocessors, a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.

Postville is the latest in a pattern of raids that has intensified in the past three years. With the help of state and local law enforcement, ICE arrested 389 workers, most of them from Guatemala and Mexico, nearly a third of all residents living in the town. The ICE raids came coincidentally after Agriprocessors had been issued 39 citations for alleged violations of state workplace safety and health standards, and after efforts to organize plant workers by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union,according to Iowa newspapers.

In an unprecedented move, ICE criminally charged 302 of the workers with aggravated ID theft and/or for using false social security numbers. In a matter of days, with the workers held at various detention centers, ICE resolved the fate of most of these workers: 297 of these men and women pled guilty and were sentenced to prison and subsequent deportation.

The uncharacteristic speed and efficiency of these proceedings left workers without adequate opportunity to consult with lawyers as they faced hard bargains from prosecutors. Hundreds of children were left not knowing about their parents' fate. Only 44 workers were released to care for their children. As in past raids, these children are likely to suffer from depression, anxiety,and post-traumatic stress. In contrast to the fate of the workers, so far no one in Agriprocessors' management has been charged, despite evidence that the company helped workers procure false documents, paid substandard wages, failed to pay overtime, and engaged in other types of grave worker mistreatment.

SALT deplores these raids that are creating a moral, legal, and humanitarian crisis in our nation. ICE's heavy handed enforcement against undocumented workers in the wake of failed immigration reform is shameful. Immigration laws remain completely out of touch with reality, and the absence of labor protection for these workers leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.

Under current immigration laws, no more than 10,000 backlogged permanent visas for unskilled workers and 66,000 temporary visas for seasonal workers are available per year, while an estimated 2,000 men, women, and children cross the Southwest border into the U.S. daily. An estimated 12 million undocumented persons live in the U.S.

These workers come to the U.S. because of global economic realities that drive them out of their nations where they have no means for even subsistence living, and into low wage jobs in the U.S. While U.S. employers and consumers benefit from this source of cheap labor, undocumented workers and their children bear the brunt of a broken immigration system.

The last immigration reform sought to stem the flow of illegal immigrants by sanctioning employers who knowingly hired undocumented workers. Enforcement has been sporadic and arbitrary. The financial incentives to employ workers who will be afraid to complain about substandard working conditions and violations of labor codes governing hours and wages are compelling. Few employers face civil or criminal sanctions for taking advantage of these laborers.

SALT also condemns ICE's decision to criminally charge almost all of the arrested workers when few constitutional guarantees are available to them. Ordinarily, use of false Social Security numbers to engage in otherwise lawful conduct, such as to apply for jobs, is not pursued criminally. This unprecedented shift to criminalize workers for the use or possession of false work documents has not been accompanied by a comparable infusion of constitutional guarantees in the handling of these cases.

ICE conducted the investigation leading to the Postville raid with easy-access to immigration databases and employee documents, by relying on informants, and then executed the raid with easily-procured administrative, not criminal, warrants. Thus, the protection of stricter Fourth Amendment search and seizure, Fifth Amendment due process, and Sixth Amendment right to counsel constitutional guarantees that apply to criminal investigations and arrests in judicial proceedings were unavailable to these workers.

Moreover, the suppression remedy for illegally seized evidence or coerced confessions is quite limited in immigration proceedings. Overwhelmingly, most workers pled guilty in their criminal cases, and thus, relinquished any possibility of raising a Fourth Amendment challenge in court. These workers waived their Fourth Amendment and other due process guarantees under extreme prosecutorial pressure and with little opportunity for adequate legal representation.

SALT is also concerned about the consequences to communities of the involvement of local law enforcement in these raids. Already distrust of police keeps many immigrants from reporting crime, which increases their vulnerability as crime victims and as employees of unscrupulous employers. Moreover, these additional responsibilities drain limited resources and take local police away from their primary duties as community caretakers. Federal immigration enforcement by local police is constitutionally suspect, particularly in the absence of Congressional authorization.

SALT, therefore, urges the Department of Homeland Security to halt such raids immediately and to treat those still in detention humanely and in accordance with all due process guarantees available to criminal defendants. If ICE plans to charge workers as criminals, then ICE should procure lawful warrants based on probable cause for future workplace raids.

SALT also calls on courts to be vigilant in protecting the constitutional rights of workers and their families affected by the raids, and apply stricter constitutional guarantees when criminal charges are implicated.

Congress should also seriously consider the implications of its trade and agricultural subsidies on developing nations and future migration flows. It is irresponsible to ignore the intersections of these policies. SALT calls on Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration reform that offers a path to legalization to workers and their families. Such legislation must include strong labor protections while ensuring family unification.

Since 1973, the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) has been an independent organization of law teachers, deans, law librarians, and legal education professionals working to make the profession more inclusive, to enhance the quality of legal education, and to extend the power of legal representation to under-served individuals and communities. www.saltlaw.org

Founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which did not admit people of color, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the

United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state. www.nlg.org

* * *

No comments: