[JURIST] Lawyers and professors testified [hearing materials] before the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary [official website] Thursday that the government process used to arrest and convict illegal immigrants in Iowa in May was illegal and violated the immigrants' due process rights. In May, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] officials raided an Agriprocessors Inc. [corporate website] meatpacking plant in Iowa and arrested 389 illegal immigrant workers. Over four days, 270 of those arrested were each sentenced to five months in prison [ICE press release; JURIST report] and 27 more received probation after pleading guilty to the use of false immigration documents. Following the sentencing, a New York Times report [text] suggested that it was uncommon for illegal immigrants to face criminal prosecution as opposed to civil charges and deportation. During the Committee hearing Thursday, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) [advocacy website] vice-president David Wolfe Leopold reiterated the group's previous criticism [letter, PDF] of the convictions process, saying [testimony, PDF]:
A prosecutors professional, moral, and ethical duty is to do justice, not merely to convict. This cardinal principal was ignored by the government in its zeal to criminalize undocumented workers. In essence, the expedited justice or "Fast Tracking" system concocted by the government, with the willing assistance of the US District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, was a conviction / deportation assembly line which could not be burdened with protecting the fundamental rights of the defendants, mostly poor uneducated Guatemalan farmers.Interpreter Erik Camayd-Freixas also criticized the system [testimony, PDF], saying that the immigrants were unable to understand their rights, the charges against them, or the plea bargains to which many finally agreed. The Washington Post has more.
Representatives from both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and ICE [testimony transcripts, PDF] defended the government's arrest and conviction processes, saying that the immigrants' constitutional rights were strictly applied. In general, US immigration prosecutions continued to increase in March 2008, jumping nearly 50 percent from the previous month and nearly 75 percent from the previous year, according to a report [text; press release] released by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) [official website] at Syracuse University. Federal immigration prosecutions have risen since February [JURIST report], when such prosecutions hit a record high. TRAC attributed the increase to Operation Streamline [Washington Post backgrounder], a joint federal program under which federal prosecutors levy minor charges against illegal immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border.