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Defending Human Rights and Due Process National Immigrant Justice Center 2009

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Defending
Human Rights
& Due Process

A Policy Brief from Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center

U.S. failed to recognize human rights of immigrants
as it aggressively prosecuted Agriprocessors workers

WINTER 2009

Workers’ lack of knowledge about legality of “working papers”
raises questions about federal convictions
As the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the “inherent dignity
and ... inalienable rights”1 of non-citizens in the United States
are compromised all too often. Even though the United States
championed the fight for the passage of the UDHR, 60 years
later the government has failed to live up to its principles. In
America’s heartland, federal immigration enforcement actions
have denied workers’ basic rights: the right to migrate; to employment; to food, clothing, housing and medical care; to be
free from arbitrary detention; to seek protection; and to a full
and fair hearing, especially when faced with criminal charges.

In May 2008, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) raided Agriprocessors, Inc., a meatpacking plant in
Postville, Iowa. Nearly 400 workers were arrested, and more
than 300 charged with federal crimes of identity theft and document fraud. A majority of these workers accepted an "exploding
plea" offer in which they pled guilty and agreed to be deported
immediately after serving five-month criminal sentences.

Most of the workers were deported in October, but debate continues over the constitutionality of the aggravated identity theft
charges that led to their deportation. The U.S. Supreme Court
agreed to hear an appeal of a case raising similar issues, United
States v. Flores-Figueroa. That case addresses the question of
whether a charge of aggravated identity theft requires that suspects knew that the identity they used belonged to another person.

In interviews after the Agriprocessors raid, many of the workers
convicted of aggravated identity theft said they did not know that
the social security number they used belonged to another person.
In fact, many expressed little understanding of the social security
system. “The workers understood [their papers] were not official government [documents], but the extent of their understanding was that this was just the plant’s requirement,” said
Erik Camayd-Freixas, a Florida International University profes-

sor who interpreted for Agriprocessors workers during legal
proceedings. “They had no idea these papers would go to the
U.S. government. They had no reason to make that link.” According to Camayd-Freixas, of the nine workers for whom he
interpreted during attorney interviews immediately following
the raid:

• Five workers did not know
what a social security number
was.
• One worker did not have a
social security card or any
form of U.S. government-issued documentation. Rather,
for his work identification the
man used a consular identification card issued by the Guatemalan Consulate.
• One worker had used his cousin’s social security number for
work after receiving his cousin’s consent.
• Two workers knew what a social security number was, but did
not know that the numbers they used belonged to others.
Attorney Sonia Parras Konrad represented many of the workers arrested in the raid who sought U Visa relief after ICE released them
with ankle monitoring bracelets (see description of U Visas on
page 2). She said that her clients’ lack of understanding of the U.S.
immigration process became clear when she asked to see the “permisos” (permits) some of the workers told her they had been given
by border agents when they entered the United States. “They said
that the coyote [smuggler] had told them that immigration officers
would make them sign some papers and give them a permit that
would allow them to come to Postville,” Parras Konrad said. Eventually she realized that the “permisos” were Notices to Appear
(NTAs), court documents that contained immigration charges.
Some workers who were not English-speakers had carried their
NTAs in their wallets for three years before Parras Konrad explained that the documents were orders to appear in court.

Denying Access to Protection:
Violation of the UDHR
Deported workers may have been
eligible for immigration protections

Forty-four former Agriprocessors, Inc., workers who were not
charged with federal crimes have received certification to apply
for U Visas based on abuse they suffered at the plant. Yet many
others who may have been subjected to the same abuses or may
have been eligible for asylum were deported because they never
had an opportunity to seek immigration legal counsel. While
Article 14 of the UDHR provides that every individual has a
right to seek asylum, ICE apThe U Visa:
pears to have denied individThis visa allows immigrants
uals this right following the
who are victims of certain
Postville raid.
crimes to remain legally in the
United States if they cooperLegal proceedings following
ate in the prosecution or inthe raid effectively barred
vestigation of a crime.
workers who were deported
from pursuing immigration relief. Detained workers were denied access to immigration attorneys who could have identified
forms of relief. The workers were given seven days to consider
a non-negotiable “exploding plea” agreement and were told that
fighting the charges would result in prolonged detention. As a
result, most defendants accepted the agreement, pled guilty to
federal charges and accepted a five-month prison sentence.
They agreed to automatic deportation after they served their
prison time, waiving their rights to seek immigration status.

The women and children who
received U visa certification
were granted humanitarian
release immediately following the ICE raid and have
stayed in Postville. Attorney
— Universal Declaration Sonia Parras Konrad said that
of Human Rights the women have told her they
Article 14 suffered abuse such as acute
sexual harassment, and in
some cases rape. “The alleged retaliation [by supervisors
against female workers] for not giving in to their sexual advances was to punish them with harder work,” she said.
“Everyone has the right to
seek and to enjoy in other
countries asylum from persecution.”

Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center Attorney Jennifer Hill interviewed workers who were sent to federal jails in Florida to serve
their criminal sentences after the raid. One woman told Hill she
was sexually assaulted by a supervisor while working at the
plant. But from Florida, Hill was unable to locate any Iowa law
enforcement authorities who would provide the certification necessary for the woman to apply for a U Visa. The woman was deported when her criminal sentence ended in October. Attorney

2

Continued on page 3

How Agriprocessors workers
obtained “working papers”

A 12-count federal indictment against Agriprocessors, Inc.,
alleges that the plant’s owners and managers knowingly
helped the workers obtain fraudulent resident alien cards,
or “green cards.”3 Many workers who were convicted and
deported for using the false documents told lawyers and
advocates that they did not know the documents were
fraudulent.
Professor Erik Camayd-Freixas interviewed 94 workers
who were sent to federal jails in Florida to serve their criminal sentences. According to Camayd-Freixas, many workers offered similar descriptions of the process they went
through to obtain “working papers,” which included social
security numbers and green cards:
When men and women initially arrived at the plant,
they were told they needed to obtain “papers” to
work.

Either Agriprocessors employees inside the plant or
individuals outside the plant allegedly approached
new workers and told them where they could buy
their “working papers.”

As instructed, workers went to a local house, paid
$350, and were photographed. A few days later they
returned to pick up the papers, including social security cards.

Workers who could not afford to pay the $350 often
worked overtime and the money allegedly was deducted from their paychecks.

In a lawsuit filed shortly after the raid, workers alleged that Agriprocessors withheld money from their
paychecks for “immigration fees.”4

When Agriprocessors received “no-match” letters indicating that workers’ names and social security numbers were flagged as inconsistent in a government
database, company supervisors allegedly confiscated
the workers’ papers and told them to return to the
local house to buy new papers.5

Former Workers in Postville Struggle to Survive: A Humanitarian Crisis
Denied the right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being

The government’s actions
in Postville left the workers unable to work and
provide for themselves
and their families. Article
25 of the UDHR recognizes that every human
has the right to a standard
of living adequate for
health and well-being. In
Postville, dozens of former workers with pending
immigration cases or who
are serving as witnesses
— Universal Declaration for federal cases against
of Human Rights the company have been
Article 25 denied their dignity and
access to basic human
rights to work, housing, and food. These workers now rely on
support from the Postville community for groceries, and to pay
for rent and heat because they are not permitted to work.
“Everyone has the right to a
standard of living adequate
for the health and well-being
of himself and of his family,
including food, clothing,
housing and medical care
and necessary social services,
and the right to security in
the event of unemployment,
sickness, disability, widowhood,
old age or other lack of
livelihood in circumstances
beyond his control.”

Rev. Paul Ouderkirk of St. Bridget’s Catholic Church said in
December 2008 that the church was spending about $80,000
per month to assist the workers with rent and heat. The church
also operates a food pantry stocked with donations from the
community. According to Attorney Sonia Parras Konrad, about
70 people were granted humanitarian release by ICE soon after

Continued from page 2

Wendi Adelson of the Center for the Advancement of Human
Rights at Florida State University interviewed women serving
their sentence at a federal prison in Tallahassee, Florida. She
reported that two women alleged they had suffered sexual harassment, and possibly sexual assault, by supervisors.
In his essay about the post-raid legal proceedings, Erik Camayd-Freixas described the dilemma one man faced when
deciding whether to accept the plea agreement or pursue his
case for immigration relief:
He had worked at the plant for ten years and had
two American-born daughters, a 2-year-old and a
newborn. He had a good case with Immigration for
an adjustment of status which would allow him to
stay. But if he took the Plea Agreement, he would

the raid because they were primary caregivers or suffered from
medical conditions. Seventeen had returned to their native countries voluntarily, 44 had applied for U Visas, and a handful were
pursuing other forms of immigration relief.

The U Visa applicants have faced significant obstacles. In December, many still wore the ankle monitoring bracelets issued in May.
The women continued to report to ICE under the terms of their release, but Parras Konrad’s requests to remove the bracelets had
been denied. Until the U Visas are approved, the women will be
ineligible to work and have become totally dependent on the
charity of St. Bridget’s. On average, it takes 12 to 24 months to
complete a U Visa case.

In November, about 30 workers who had completed criminal
sentences were brought back to Iowa by federal prosecutors to
serve as witnesses in the federal cases against Agriprocessors’
management. These were the same individuals that were pressured to sign plea agreements in May 2008 waiving their rights
to immigration relief and stipulating their own deportation at
the end of five-month criminal sentences. Many were anxious
to be deported to their native countries so they could find work
again and provide for the basic needs of their families. Some
had obtained temporary work permits or were living in other
Iowa towns, but 14 young men who had not received work permits as of December relied on the the Postville community for
food and housing assistance.

lose that chance and face deportation as a felon convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude.” On the other
hand, if he pled “not guilty” he had to wait several
months in jail for trial, and risk getting a 2-year sentence. After an agonizing decision, he concluded
that he had to take the 5-month deal and deportation, because as he put it, “I cannot be away from
my children for so long.” His case was complicated;
it needed research in immigration law, a change in
the Plea Agreement, and, above all, more time.2

The lack of due process in the Agriprocessors raid jeopardizes American ideals of fairness in the judicial system
and runs afoul of international human rights standards
requiring full and fair due process.

3

Take Action to Safeguard Human Rights

Humanitarian and legal aid for Postville families:
St. Bridget’s Catholic Church has spent about $80,000 per
month to care for Postville families and may run out of money
by January 2009.

Additionally, about 20 former Agriprocessors workers who
were not aware of previous removal orders must pay $110 to
reopen their court cases to apply for U Visa protection. Donations to help cover court filing costs must be designated
“for legal representation.”

Donations to assist with rent, heat, and court fees
for Postville families can be sent to:
Hispanic Ministry
c/o St. Bridget’s Catholic Church
135 West Williams
Postville, Iowa 52162

Resources

Camayd-Freixas, Erik. “Interpreting after the Largest ICE
Raid in US History: A Personal Account.” http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/07/14/opinion/14ed-camayd.pdf

The Des Moines Register continuing coverage of the aftermath of the raid. http://www.desmoinesregister.com/
apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=NEWS&theme=POSTVI
LLE_ICE_RAID&template=theme

Federal indictment against Agriprocessors.
http://www.desmoinesregister.com/assets/pdf/AgriprocessorsIndictment.pdf

The Iowa Independent continuing coverage of the aftermath of the raid. http://iowaindependent.com/tag/postville

Moyers, Peter. “Butchering Statutes: The Postville Raid
and the Misinterpretation of Federal Law.” Scheduled for
publication in the Seattle University Law Review in April
2009. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id
=1306747

NIJC’s Fall 2008 Edition of the Defending Due Process
and Human Rights Policy Brief: “Immigration Enforcement’s Newest Strategy: Prosecution for Federal Crimes
and Swift Deportation.” http://www.immigrantjustice.org/
resources/policy/nijcpolicybrief
4

Banner photo courtesy of Flickr
Creative Commons/mindgutter

Support Humane Immigration Reform in 2009:
The treatment of Agriprocessors workers threatens America’s proud history as a nation of immigrants. ICE’s increasingly harsh immigration enforcement policies separate
families into isolated jails, with insufficient access to legal
counsel. These violations put all Americans at risk.

The Protect Citizens and Residents from Unlawful Raids and
Detention Act, S. 3594, would improve the humanitarian
and due process protections available to those affected by
enforcement actions.
Tell Congress to make humane immigration reform a priority in 2009. Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard and ask for
your senators’ and representatives’ offices: (202) 224-3121.

Footnotes:
1. Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
2. Camayd-Freixas, Erik. (June 2008). “Interpreting after the
Largest ICE Raid in US History: A Personal Account.”
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/07/14/opinion/14edcamayd.pdf
3. Federal indictment against Agriprocessors.
http://www.desmoinesregister.com/assets/pdf/
AgriprocessorsIndictment.pdf
4. Schulte, Grant. (May 2008). “Detainees allege abuses by
company.” The Des Moines Register. http://www.desmoinesregister
com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080516/NEWS/80516003
5. Federal indictment against Agriprocessors and CamaydFreixas interview

Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant
Justice Center gratefully acknowledges
the U.S. Human Rights Fund for its support of this publication and the DHSNGO Enforcement Working Group. The
Working Group facilitates advocacy and
open communication between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and human rights organizations, the organized bar, legal aid providers, and immigrant rights
groups. With a nationwide membership of more than three dozen
organizations, the Working Group advocates for full protection of
internationally recognized human rights, constitutional and statutory due process rights, and humane treatment of noncitizens. The
Working Group is co-chaired by the National Immigrant Justice Center and The Chicago Bar Foundation. The National Immigrant Justice Center is solely responsible for the content of this document.

Contact:
Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center
Tara Magner, Director of Policy
(312) 660-1363; tmagner@heartlandalliance.org
www.immigrantjustice.org

 

 

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