The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Archive for July 2008

Immigration raid in Postville: Justice denied

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Raid in Postville

Raid in Postville

For most of those three hours, this man was just weeping, and he was weeping for his family, worried about his children. He had children back in Guatemala, his mother, his wife and his sister all depending on him. He was the sole earner for the entire family.

So describes Erik Camayd, a professor of modern languages at Florida International University in Miami, who was one of the court-appointed interpreters flown in for the trial of immigrants arrested here in Iowa.  Here’s Amy Goodman’s set-up:

We turn now to Postville, Iowa, a small town of just over 2,000 people. On May 12th, the town became the site of the largest immigration raid in US history. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, arrested 389 workers at Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in the country. Nearly 300 of the workers were charged with aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud. Many were sent to prison.

Camayd, who’s been participating in trials for twenty-five years, describes what he saw:

Then began the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see, because cameras were not allowed past the perimeter of the compound. Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10. They appeared to be uniformly no more than 5 ft. tall, mostly illiterate Guatemalan peasants with Mayan last names, some in tears; others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment.

Since these people are so very poor, and since they are often the only source of income for an extended family, a jail sentence may mean their children go hungry.  Even if utterly innocent, the decision forced upon them is justice or hungry kids:

I saw immediately that this man had no choice but to plead guilty, if he wanted to return to his family as soon as possible … what made this case unique was that, for the first time, at least in this scale, they were not being deported but actually criminally prosecuted and sent to jail for five months or more. And the fact that they did not have a right to bail and that if they wanted to plead “not guilty” they would have had to wait possibly longer, up to six or eight months in jail without bail waiting for a trial, made this situation very, very difficult to really say that there was justice done in many of these cases. […]

[T]o place them in that position, basically holding their families’ well-being ransom over their heads in order to induce them to accept a plea agreement and plead guilty as the fastest way to get back home and then placing them in jail for that time under that kind of duress, I think that it’s very disturbing. It’s very disturbing. […]

Indeed, it is.

It may be legal, but it isn’t justice.


Read Erik Camayd’s personal account of the raid [Download pdf]


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Written by Monte

July 14, 2008 at 3:37 pm

“To live now as we think humans should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us…”

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UPDATE: I found some good encouragement in the comments of friends at Clipmarks today, and was reminded of this post from nearly two years ago. Here’s a re-post—’cause we all need hope.


Sometimes I think of the enormity of darkness which our world contains, and find the tragedies involved simply too crushing.

How small I am! How seemingly powerless! I find myself in need of hope.
I found some, today, in the conclusion to Howard Zinn’s 1994 book You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times. If you’re invested in bringing good to your world, perhaps you’ll find these words encouraging.

. . . In 1992, teachers all over the country, by the thousands, were beginning to teach the Columbus story in new ways, to recognize that to Native Americans, Columbus and his men were not heroes, but marauders. The point being not just to revise our view of past events, but to be provoked to think about today.

What was most remarkable was that Indian teachers, Indian community activists, were in the forefront of this campaign. How far we have come from that long period of Indian invisibility, when they were presumed to be dead or safely put away on reservations! They have returned, five hundred years after their near annihilation by invading Europeans, to demand that America rethink its beginnings, rethink its values.

It is this change in consciousness that encourages me. Granted, racial hatred and sex discrimination are still with us, war and violence still poison our culture, we have a large underclass of poor, desperate people, and there is a hard core of the population content with the way things are, afraid of change.

But if we see only that, we have lost historical perspective, and then it is as if we were born yesterday and we know only the depressing stories in this morning’s newspapers, this evening’s television reports. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

July 7, 2008 at 4:06 pm

The Declaration of Independence and human rights

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To commemorate the 4th of July, here’s Declaration of Independence, as published by The Pennsylvania Packet, one of the great Philadelphia newspapers of the day.

According to EarlyAmerica.com:

Congress had appointed a Committee of Five to draft a statement to the world presenting the colonies’ case for independence. The committee consisted of John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. The committee assigned Jefferson the task of writing the original document. After minor alterations were subsequently made by Franklin and Adams, the document was submitted to Congress.

Two passages in Jefferson’s draft were rejected by the Congress — an intemperate reference to the English people and a scathing denunciation of the slave trade. Otherwise, the Declaration was adopted without significant change…

Declaration of Independence

In these days of controversy over the treatment of immigrants and the detention of suspected terrorists, perhaps it’s useful to remind ourselves that this founding document of America acknowledges that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Further, securing those rights – the rights of all, not just citizens – is the reason for which governments “are instituted.”

Nothing could be more American.


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Written by Monte

July 4, 2008 at 10:33 pm