Jun 2, 2008
In Waterloo, Iowa 270 immigrants without legal papers, most from Guatemala, were sentenced to five months in prison for working at the Agriprocessors Inc. meat packing plant in nearby Postville. Judge Mark Bennett told them, “I don’t doubt for a moment that you are good, hard-working people who have done what you did to help your families. Unfortunately for you, you committed a violation of federal law.”
Were laws violated? Yes – a lot of them. And the worst violations were committed by the company and the government itself. Agriprocessors has been regularly cited for “serious health violations,” including the improper storage and use of hazardous chemicals, the improper labeling of emergency exits, alarms that couldn’t be heard by everyone, and improper programs for handling blood-borne pathogens. But it barely got a slap on the wrist, just over $1,000 per infraction. When the May 12 raid occurred, it was violating child labor laws with children younger than 16 working in this dangerous plant, and overtime hour laws.
Criminal? You bet, but the government demonstrated it had no intention of imposing respect for worker safety laws. No – the government rushed to prosecute the victims, the immigrants forced to work under such horrendous conditions, in what could only be called a kangaroo court.
A total of 270 immigrants were run through shotgun trials and sentencing in only four days time. The “courtrooms” were the National Cattle Congress grounds, mobile trailers and a dance hall. The Agriprocessors workers were denied the right to see immigration lawyers, and the time to understand what they were being charged with. They were threatened with a mandatory two years in prison unless they pled guilty immediately and accepted five months in prison and signed away their right to go to immigration court. The workers entered with their hands and feet shackled in groups of ten, reinforcing the intimidation. They entered their guilty pleas together and immediately were moved en masse to another courtroom for sentencing, then to five months in prison.
Respect for the law? These criminals who run the government have none.