Jail for 270 Meat Cutters at Agriprocessors, Inc.

By Richard W. Crockett


The Heat is apparently on.  Julia Preston reported in the New York Times on May 24, 2008 that 270 illegal Immigrants were sentenced to prison in the Federal effort to manage immigration violations.  Guilty pleas were forthcoming from 297 defendants in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid on the Postville, Iowa Agriprocessors’ plant, which occurred on May 12, even in the face of criminal defense lawyers’ warnings of violations of due process of law.  Of the 297 persons charged, 270 were sentenced to five months in prison and immediate deportation thereafter.  Twenty-seven persons received probation.  Defense Attorneys complained that workers had been denied meetings with lawyers knowledgeable about immigration issues and that “their claims under immigration law had been swept aside in unusual and speedy plea agreements.”  Most of the immigrants were from Guatemala. They appeared in court, shackled and in groups of ten, and each individually entered guilty pleas of having taken jobs using false Social Security Cards or other immigration papers.  It is symbolic that the 297 cases were herded into and heard at the “grounds of the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo.”


What is new in the tactics used in immigration enforcement is the threat of and use of the criminal law for immigration violations, rather than falling under civil statutes, as has been the practice.   Prosecutors were prepared to use the criminal law for those failing to accept a plea agreement and to charge defendants with “felony identity theft” which has a “mandatory two-year jail sentence.”


One wonders what called attention to Agriprocessors and the Postville, Iowa operation.  It appears that the company had other problems resulting from food safety enforcement issues and labor issues.  On December 28, 2007, in a letter from Rav Zachariah Gelley and Rav Yisroel Mantel, they were notified by the Rabbinate that, “No meat or poultry slaughtered after April 15, 2008 may bear our Kashrus certification.” This certification is a kind of kosher seal of approval.  In addition to this, they had been notified of numerous safety violations, and by November 14, 2007 had faced over 250 noncompliance records from the Food Safety and Inspection Service and had received additional “letters of warning.” These safety violations included general sanitation, E-Coli and Mad Cow disease measures.   According to a letter from four members of Congress, Jerrold Nadler, Jan Schakowsky, Bruce Braley, and Steve Kagen, sent to Chuck Conner, Acting Secretary of Agriculture, this included, “non-compliance with processes designed to mitigate the risk of food-borne illness and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as “Mad Cow.”  In addition the United Food and Commercial Workers prepared a report, dated February 29, 2008, entitled “Food Safety Concerns At Agriprocessors’ Local Pride Plant,” a plant located in Gordon, Nebraska.


Additional labor issues involved charges of exploitation of employees because of their vulnerability due to their immigration status.  According to brief accompanying the application and affidavit for search warrant, prepared by senior Special Agent David Hoagland, for the search and inspection of the Postville, Iowa plant, some employees were paid in cash, as little as $5.00 per hour and after 3 months, were bumped up to $6.00 per hour.  Others were given undesirable work assignments and in order to get better assignments they were forced to buy a car from a supervisor, designated supervisor “C,” in the affidavit, who purchased and resold vehicles to illegal immigrants, using false identities and addresses.  If employees did not buy a vehicle from him, according to the allegations in the affidavit, “they would be fired or given poor work shifts.”  Many of these addresses were given as Des Moines County and were located in Burlington and West Burlington.  In Iowa, the county of registration appears on the license plate, but in many instances the renewals were made in Allamakee County, where Postville is located, even though the plates were designated Des Moines County.  Supervisor “C” was found to be a “personal friend” of proprietors of a car dealership in Cedar Rapids in an audit of the dealership’s transactions.  “Sales to Postville residents appeared to represent approximately 90% of the business for the dealership,” according to the affidavit. The affidavit also alleged that there is “probable cause to believe an Agriprocessors’ supervisor has assisted, for a cut of the proceeds, illegal aliens in obtaining false documentation in relation to purchasing vehicles, and thereby has aided in harboring the illegal aliens.” 


The affidavit cites an April 1, 2008 Hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension, that OSHA records show “no less than twenty violations” including injuries to workers that included five amputations along with dozens of other serious injuries such as broken bones, eye injuries and hearing loss.”  It is understandable that much of the investigators information in the affidavit came from employees within the plant.  The principle information came from an Agriprocessors’ employee identified as “source #7 in the affidavit.  This individual, apparently a Hispanic who understood Spanish and English, was a paid informant and frequently wore a bug. Perhaps this is a word to the wise for other food processing operations.  It appears to be bad news for somebody.