297 Iowa meat packers are railroaded to jail
Convicted on identity theft charges
Workers are led in shackles to court set up at Cattle Congress fairgrounds in Waterloo, Iowa, May 14. Most were sentenced to five months in jail.
BY SETH GALINSKY
DES MOINESOf the 389 immigrant workers arrested as part of the May 12 raid at Agriprocessors Inc., in Postville, Iowa, 297 were sentenced on federal felony charges at the end of May. Most were charged with using false documentation or with false use of a Social Security number to obtain employment.
In what the New York Times called unusually swift proceedings at the National Cattle Congress fairgrounds in Waterloo, Iowa, the workersshackled hand and footwere herded in groups of 10 into mobile trailers and a dance hall used as makeshift courtrooms. The sentencing ran for four days from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
The 297 workers accepted plea bargains in which they had to agree to cooperate with the U.S. government in a possible criminal investigation against Agriprocessors. Most were sentenced to five months in jail followed by immediate deportation to Guatemala or Mexico. Five of those in detention are still awaiting trial. Sixty-two were released with electronic ankle bracelets on humanitarian grounds, such as having young children to take care of, as they await court hearings. Many of those who did not face criminal charges have already been deported.
This is an injustice, Yesmi Loera, 25, said in a phone interview from Postville. We only come here to work. Loera, from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, is one of several dozen women with children released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after the raid. She wears an electronic monitoring bracelet around her ankle 24 hours a day and is not allowed to leave Iowa until a future hearing.
I dont know what the charges are against me or when the hearing will take place, Loera said. Her husband is being held at the jail in Newton, Iowa, on charges of identity theft. She has not been able to talk to him since the raid, although she has received one letter.
I called the jail and they said I could not visit him because I am wearing the ankle bracelet, Loera said. They wont let my brother who is a legal resident visit him either. They say only my husbands immediate relatives are allowed in.
Conditions vary depending on the jail. Detainees say they have been charged as much as $25 for a five-minute phone call.
Brothers of Alejandro Bustamante were allowed a five-minute visit. We dont know what the charges are, a family member said May 25. And he still has not been assigned a lawyer.
The mother of Ulises Regino has not been able to confirm where he is being held. There is no official list of all the detainees and where they are detained.
A front page article in the Des Moines Register featured Yesenia Cordero and Henry López. Cordero, 16, is from Mexico. Her husband López, 18, is from Guatemala. They have a one-year-old daughter. López is in jail; Cordero is free, with the electronic monitoring device around her ankle.
Cordero, who worked on the scales at the plant, expects that she will be deported to Mexico and López to Guatemala. They have not seen each other since ICE agents found their hiding place in the plant, pointed guns at them and told them to come out. She doesnt know if they will ever see each other again.
Hundreds of people from Iowa and the region showed their solidarity with the workers affected by the raid by sending money and other aid, said Sister Mary McCauley, of St. Bridgets Catholic Church in Postville.
The raid and the sentences are unjust, McCauley said. The real injustice is the way our people were treated like property at Agriprocessors, the slave-like conditions at work.
McCauley commented on the women who after the raid marched in protest in Waterloo May 18. I saw some of the new Rosa Parks at the demonstration saying we are not criminals, we have a right to work and to support our children, she said. Parks became a prominent symbol of the civil rights movement when she refused to give her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.
Loera was one of those at the march, her first ever. It was good to march against them, she said, referring to ICE.
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