The ICE raid on August 25 netted 595 workers at the plant of Howard Industries, Inc., which produces electrical transformers. This was the largest raid in history. Workers came from Germany, Peru, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras and Brazil. It appears that ICE will not pursue its highly objectionable practice of railroaded illegal workers through a mass criminal conviction, but rather deport them, as ICE did in the Postville IA raid in May of this year.
The particularly noxious aspect of the Postville strategy is that of railroading the workers into confessing, with scant legal advice, to plead guilty to Social Security fraud in misusing social security numbers. Many of the worker were not aware they were misusing numbers, rather just using numbers given to them by management. Only eight were charged criminally with identity theft.
The Des Moines Register ran an article late last week about the apparent change in strategy by ICE. Most likely the uproar over the strategy influenced ICE.
The article in full:
Critics tie scant new charges to wariness after Iowa raid. Raid in Postville: Comparison to Mississippi Arrests
By Leys Tony
The Des Moines Register, 1August 28, 2008
Critics of the way suspected illegal immigrant workers were handled after last May's raid in Iowa noticed a change in government tactics after this week's raid in Mississippi.
Federal officials detained 595 workers at a Mississippi electric-transformer factory Monday but filed criminal charges against just eight of them.
That's in marked contrast to what happened after the raid at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, where prosecutors filed criminal identity-theft charges within days against 305 of the 389 workers who were arrested. Most of those people quickly pleaded guilty during mass hearings held at the National Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo and now are serving five-month prison sentences.
Most of the workers arrested in Mississippi are being held on civil immigration charges, which generally lead to deportation.
A spokeswoman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency would not specify why so few of the Mississippi workers had been charged with crimes. She said more charges could still be added.
But one of the most prominent critics of the legal process used in Iowa said Wednesday that the government appears to be backing away from those tactics.
'I think Postville was a huge embarrassment because of the criminalization of workers,' said Erik Camayd-Freixas, a veteran federal courts interpreter who participated in the Cattle Congress hearings.
Camayd-Freixas, who is a Spanish language professor at Florida International University, made national waves this summer by publicly complaining that the legal process used in Iowa was unfair to the defendants.
He said uneducated Guatemalans and Mexicans were pressured into pleading guilty to identity-theft charges, even though they didn't realize the Social Security cards they'd bought contained someone else's numbers. The vast majority had never been charged with other crimes, he said, and they had no intent to commit identity theft.
Camayd-Freixas said Wednesday that in his 20 years of working with the federal courts, he'd never seen mass, rushed hearings such as those held in Iowa. He noted that news reports from Mississippi indicated that the eight people who were charged with crimes after the raid there had been taken to a regular federal courthouse for standard hearings.
ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said more criminal charges could be filed against people seized in the Mississippi raid.
She said that too often, Americans believe raids indicate the end of investigations.
'They don't,' Gonzalez said. 'In fact, the investigation continues.'
Federal prosecutors did not respond to requests for comment.
The Mississippi raid surpassed the size of the one in Postville, which had been described as the biggest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history.
A national group calling for tougher immigration enforcement declined to speculate Wednesday on why the Mississippi raid hadn't brought more criminal charges.
The facts of individual cases could be much different, said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Among the Agriprocessors workers, he said, 'there were a lot of things besides just working in the country illegally.'
Drake University law professor Bob Rigg said the process being used in Mississippi looks familiar. 'That used to be the norm until Postville,' said Rigg, who has criticized the prosecution methods used in Iowa.
He said it's hard to tell why the government hasn't filed mass charges in the latest case. But lawyers around the country are aware of the Iowa controversy, Rigg said. Among other things, it led to a critical New York Times editorial titled 'The Shame of Postville.'
'It could be the U.S. attorney in Mississippi decided, 'I'm not going to go through that,' ' Rigg said.
Differences between raids
Federal immigration agents swept into the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant at Postville on May 12, arresting 389 workers who allegedly were in the country illegally.
Charges: Criminal identity-theft charges were quickly filed against more than 300 workers, most of whom were from Guatemala or Mexico. Mass court hearings were held in temporary facilities set up at the Cattle Congress fairgrounds in Waterloo. Within 10 days, 297 former Agriprocessors workers pleaded guilty. Most were sentenced to five months in prison, then deportation.
Criticism: Critics said prosecutors unfairly rushed defendants through the process and pressured them to plead guilty of crimes they didn't intend to commit. They said there was little evidence the workers used their false identification cards to do anything but work. Critics also noted that after past immigration raids, most such workers were deported without being charged with crimes, but were told they could face criminal charges if they re-entered the United States illegally.
No reason for charges: Prosecutors defended the process as fair, but declined to explain why they decided to file criminal charges against most of the workers. Supporters said the charges demonstrated that people could face tough consequences for breaking the law.
Immigration agents raided Howard Industries on Monday, arresting 595 suspected illegal immigrant workers. The event surpassed the Postville mark as the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history.
Charges: Authorities charged eight of the Mississippi workers with identity theft, which can lead to prison time. In a press release, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said the rest of the workers would face civil immigration charges, which often lead to deportation. An ICE spokeswoman said more criminal charges could be added, but she would not comment on why the process has been different so far.
The Mississippi workers came from Germany, Peru, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras and Brazil