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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union obtained a government "manual" distributed to defense lawyers assigned to represent immigrant workers arrested and prosecuted in last May's Postville, Iowa meatpacking raids. The document – posted on the ACLU Web site today – contains prepackaged scripts for plea and sentencing hearings as well as documents providing for guilty pleas and waivers of rights that were used to push the more than 300 Postville workers through mass criminal proceedings as quickly as possible.
"This document provides further evidence of the government's disturbing pressure cooker tactics for mass guilty pleas that assumed guilt instead of protecting the constitutional presumption of innocence," said ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project Director Lucas Guttentag. "Along with the workers, fairness and due process were the victims of the Postville prosecutions."
The government "manual" provided for the workers to waive all their legal rights and in the overwhelming majority of cases, to plead guilty to charges of falsely using identity documents for employment. It was an important tool used to rush defendants through the criminal justice and immigration systems without a criminal trial or immigration proceedings. The plea forms in the "manual" included a requirement barring immigrants from pursuing any legal claims or procedures under the immigration laws.
After the Postville meatpacking raids, the ACLU and many other organizations sharply condemned the denial of basic legal protections to the arrested immigrant workers. The troubling system implemented by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Department of Homeland Security appeared designed to undermine fairness and due process by criminally prosecuting the workers under circumstances that undermined their ability to understand or protect their rights.
The large scale criminal prosecution of workers is a new tactic of the Bush administration. Previously, charges of fraud and identity theft were usually reserved for cases that involved the theft of people's identities to rob them of money and property and did not typically extend to the use of false papers for employment.
A copy of the Postville raids defense "manual" is available online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/workplace/36215res20080731.html