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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

Harkin: An Apology For Slavery

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Iowa’s Sen. Tom Harkin spoke on June 18th in support of a bill that made an official government apology to black Americans for slavery in the United States, and for the government’s long failure to act against it. I am proud that one of my state’s Senators was a key mover in the apology. Every time America honestly faces the dark sides of its past, we become a better people.

Does it end racial division? Of course not. But, as with all trauma, healing only happens in small steps. Words are always part of those steps.   Some may say “Talk is cheap, nothing is solved, this Senate didn’t cause slavery anyway.”  But we are responsible for our history, and I’ll take an apology over official silence any day.


Today, Senator Tom Harkin delivered remarks on the Senate Floor just prior to the passage of S. Con. Res. 26, which he introduced and co-sponsored. The transcript follows.

“Madam President, the clerk just read for the first time ever in this body what we should have done a long time ago. An apology for slavery and the Jim Crow laws which, for a century after emancipation, deprived millions of Americans their basic human rights, equal justice under law and equal opportunities. Today the Senate will unanimously make that apology. Read the rest of this entry »

A landmark: Text of the Obama speech on race

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“A More Perfect Union”
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
Constitution Center
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tuesday 18 March 2008

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Monte

March 18, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Posted in patriotism, Politics, Race

Why the Supreme Court’s unreasonable searches ruling matters to me

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This is good news:

After thirty years of near carte blanche to police regarding auto searches, this decision supports an often-abused right to privacy.  And it’s a “least-first” issue.

clipped from criminaljustice.change.org
Tuesday was a critical day for individual privacy rights at the U.S. Supreme Court.

[T]he court issued a major decision protecting citizens against unreasonable searches in traffic stops.

An unusual alliance of justices (Stevens, Scalia, Souter, Thomas and Ginsberg) came together in a 5-4 decision in Arizona v. Gant, ruling that officers can search a car during an arrest only if the suspect is close enough to the car to reach for a weapon or if there’s reason to believe the car contains evidence very pertinent to the arrest.

The decision strengthens fourth amendment protections for criminal suspects and limits the wide latitude officers have had for nearly three decades since the court’s decision in New York v. Belton.

New York Times: Supreme Court Cuts Back Officers’ Searches of Vehicles

WSJ Law Blog: Police Power to Search Cars Up in Smoke

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I have seen abuse by police.  I’m a white, middle-class, middle-aged guy, so I’ve not seen it a lot.  But on a couple of occasions, the curtain has lifted just enough to allow a glimpse onto a stage many Americans experience as normal life.

Read the rest of this entry »

American Drug War Economics – Vol.1

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Marijuana
Image by warrantedarrest via Flickr

When I was a college kid in the 1970s, buying pot was easier than buying cigarettes (though, to be honest, I don’t remember ever buying either!)

Probably, it hasn’t changed. But here’s what has:  I didn’t know of one single person who’d gone to prison over it.  It’s a whole lot easier to end up in prison today.

Kids,  just like kids of my generation, act like kids.  But “get tough” laws are on the books now.  They rip kids’ futures away, and give them instead a bed in the most violent, gang-dominated, drug-permeated neighborhoods in America:  our prisons.

When they get out, they’re marked. Getting a job is tough.  Getting scholarships is nearly impossible (“get-tough” legislators having pre-wired the FAFSA to identify criminal records), so education is almost out of the question.  Careers that require certifications are mostly closed. The options they had planned for are gone.

Visitors entrance to Utah State Prison's Wasat...
Image via Wikipedia

For all that, what have we, as a society, gained? Nada.

These horrific laws, easily passed and rarely opposed (what politician wants to be labeled “soft on drugs“?), which incarcerate many of our best and brightest and then leave them with few non-poverty options, have utterly failed to reduce drug use. And they have cost us a fortune.

Meanwhile, your legislators are looking for more billions to build more prisons because this juggernaut crushes kids by the thousands every single day.  No other nation imprisons as many of its own as we do in “the land of the free.”

It will continue until we stop it.  And, since lots of people make lots of money keeping things just the way they are, it won’t stop easily.

But here’s one place—of many—to begin.

American Drug War Economics – Volume 1
Ending drug prohibition and focusing on addiction as a sickness, like alcohol and prescription drugs, could save the U.S. economy and millions of lives. Please pass this video on to as many people as you can. We need your help to end the Drug War.http://www.americandrugwar.com, http://www.sacredcow.com, http://www.sacredcowstore.com; Produced by Kevin Booth and Ryan Kaye
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Let’s get started.


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