The NY Times reports that immigration officials have been running a rapid-fire prosecution program aimed at illegal aliens who’d fraudulently used other people’s identification to gain employment with Agriprocessors Inc. Nearly 400 people were processed through the special court. 94 were convicted on Wednesday alone. For the math-challenged, that’s nearly 12 convictions per hour. That doesn’t seem right.
The prosecutions, which ended Friday, signal a sharp escalation in the Bush administration’s crackdown on illegal workers, with prosecutors bringing tough federal criminal charges against most of the immigrants arrested in a May 12 raid.
The unusually swift proceedings, in which 297 immigrants pleaded guilty and were sentenced in four days, were criticized by criminal defense lawyers, who warned of violations of due process. Twenty-seven immigrants received probation. The American Immigration Lawyers Association protested that the workers had been denied meetings with immigration lawyers and that their claims under immigration law had been swept aside in unusual and speedy plea agreements.
“To my knowledge, the magnitude of these indictments is completely unprecedented,” said Juliet Stumpf, an immigration law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., who was formerly a senior civil rights lawyer at the Justice Department. “It’s the reliance on criminal process here as part of an immigration enforcement action that takes this out of the ordinary, a startling intensification of the criminalization of immigration law.”
Startling for a couple of reasons, first and foremost for being long overdue. It’s almost surprising to see federal officials doing anything to enforce laws that illegal immigrants break with near impunity.
It’s also starting to see mass trials in the United States in which the accused have relatively little access to attorneys, some of whom were severely overworked during the process.
Defense lawyers, who each agreed to represent as many as 30 immigrants, said they were satisfied that they had sufficient time to question them and prepare their cases. But some lawyers said they were troubled by the severity of the charges.
It’s not the charges – which were almost certainly legitimate – or the sentences – 5 months in prison – that’s troubling. Rather, it’s the idea that we’re going to ram these people through a makeshift sentencing process that’s a farcical shadow of the real American legal system.
It’s not like this can be a sustained effort. There’s no place to put these people, for one thing. Even if we were to convict and sentence only 10% of illegals we’re talking 1.2-1.5 million people. So it’s obviously a short-term scare tactic.
Christopher Clausen, a lawyer who represented 21 Guatemalans, said he was certain they all understood their options and rights. Mainly they wanted to get home to Guatemala as quickly as possible, he said.
“The government is not bashful about the fact that they are trying to send a message,” Mr. Clausen said, “that if you get caught working illegally here you will pay a criminal penalty.”
Perhaps it will work. If Clausen’s clients want to go home ASAP, perhaps others will too. Meanwhile, the Times says that prosecutors were preparing a case against Agriprocessors, which should be a slam-dunk since the workers are required to cooperate with related investigations as part of their plea.
The workers said that supervisors and managers were well aware that the immigrants were working under false documents.
No surprise. Ultimately this is the way that the battle with illegal immigration must be won – at the demand end of the pipeline. The supply, it seems, is inexhaustible.