Friday, March 9, 2012

     When I was first approached by ministry partners about joining them in the opposition of a nominee to the federal judiciary here in Iowa, I considered it to be too far outside my ministry to give it serious thought. My opinion of most politicians above the local level was not good long before I got involved in the effort to eliminate slavery. I can only say my experience with politicians about Human Trafficking has served only to confirm my prior opinions. So why would I want to step into another battle and ask others to join me?

     For those who live outside Iowa, my willingness to join might seem odd, so let me explain. Back in May of 2008, the federal government executed a raid presumably against illegal aliens working at Agriprocessors, Inc., a kosher meat packing facility outside Postville, IA. Press accounts of the raid are easily googled, and I particularly commend the movie abUSed: The Postville Raid to anyone interested in the topic of immigration, legal or otherwise. But, suffice it to say, a sizable force of ICE, FBI, and other agencies invaded a small town in Iowa, ostensibly to protect us from these criminals working hard in a meat-packing facility. For us at St. Alban’s, the raid was a watershed moment. Our efforts to feed families of Hispanic origin through the Angel Food Ministries program had nearly born fruit in the birth of a predominantly Hispanic, protestant congregation in our midst. Families that had drifted away from the Church for whatever reason, had approached us about opening up our space for worship. When we offered a Spanish service and a neighboring priest who was willing to lead the Eucharist, there were the beginnings of many Prodigal sons and daughter stories. In one fell swoop, thanks to the raid, the entire community dissipated. Those whom we had been serving for months never came around again. As one of the leaders shared with me, in light of these raids and the accompanying horror stories of herding, of threats and of intimidation, “who could they trust?”

     Where the raid becomes more than tangentially related to the issue of Human Trafficking is in the discovery and investigations which followed the initial roundup, herding, separation of families, incarceration, and deportation of those arrested. During the review of particular cases, it was discovered that a number of individuals (some place the estimate as high as 75) had been enslaved in Postville. As hard as the work is in a meat packing facility, imagine doing it for absolutely no money, or as little as $25 for 12 hours of that labor. Simply put, coyotes allegedly had trafficked victims to Iowa and got them jobs at the plant. The coyotes, posing as temporary employment businesses, allegedly collected the money from Agriprocessors that the employees had earned. Additionally, some women had been trafficked into the area to “service” the men in the area. So, in addition to the problems of immigration, Postville also involved several cases of alleged Human Trafficking. Unfortunately, much of what went on with respect to the raid, the subsequent arrests, and prosecutions has never been made public.

     Why do we care about this four years later? Stephanie Rose, then the Deputy Chief of the criminal division of the US Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Iowa that was assigned to handle the various cases, has been nominated to fill a soon-to-be vacant position on the Federal bench in the Southern District of Iowa. Her nomination has been much ballyhooed here in Iowa as she would be the first woman to sit on the federal bench in the Southern District of Iowa and only the second woman ever to serve in Iowa. Certainly, there is a need for more qualified women to be nominated to fill vacancies on the Federal bench, particularly in Iowa. My question is whether Ms. Rose should be the one so honored in light of her actions surrounding the Postville raid and in light of her staunch defense of the actions taken in the press.

     Ms. Rose was one of the key players in the prosecution of approximately 300 undocumented immigrants who were working for Agriprocessors, Inc. at the time of the raid. Her actions, both at the time and after, have sense come into serious question. Nearly all the undocumented immigrants who were arrested were charged with felony-identity theft rather than the simple undocumented immigration crimes which would have been sufficient for the purpose of a trial and deportation of those who were here, in fact, illegally. While many of us can appreciate zeal on the part of our prosecutors to enforce the laws of this land, the prosecution’s efforts were beyond the pale. Judge Mark Bennett, who accepted the resulting plea deals for almost 60 of those accused, termed the effort “personally and professionally offensive.” David Leopold, the president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, wonders whether Ms. Rose, in particular, would engage in this type of prosecution again or allow it to occur under her watch as a judge, if faced with similar circumstances. To this point, she has not been asked to give an accounting of her actions or her lessons learned. Apparently, the United States Supreme Court sided with Judge Bennett’s evaluation and Mr. Leopold’s questioning of Ms. Rose’s efforts, unanimously declaring in 2009 that felony identity theft charges cannot be applied to individuals like those rounded up in Postville. As politically divided as our court is now, it unanimously ruled against the prosecution’s tactics. The questions of her suitability for a position on the federal bench, however, do not end with her passionate efforts to get convictions quickly when serving as a prosecutor.

     According to documents that had to be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the US Attorney’s office was involved with Chief US District Judge Linda Reade from October of 2007 until the execution of the raid in the spring of 2008 regarding the raid and the prosecutions of those arrested. Given the fact that we expect our judges to be impartial arbiters of justice, the public needs to know whether the rights of the accused were abridged prior to any arrests or hearings. Looking back on the prosecutions, we can see some disturbing trends. While the accused were provided attorneys, as required under the law, we must question the ability of the defense attorneys to provide the best possible defense for their appointed clients. Few, if any, had any significant experience in immigration cases. True, the government offered some education similar to Continuing Education classes, but can we really expect that those prosecuting were providing the best possible defense tools to those representing the accused? Complicating the effort to defend their clients, most court appointed attorneys were assigned up to 20 defendants (the average was 17 defendants per lawyer according to the House Judiciary Committee). In a matter of a few days, attorneys with little or no immigration experience were expected to learn the law and the circumstances of their clients and present an adequate defense. It is no small wonder that so many defendants pled guilty to lesser charges.

     Why should the plea deals offend Judge Barrett or concern us? Little publicized is the fact that 140 of those individuals who were deported have received U-visas (specific visas granted to particular victims of crimes) and returned to the United States. In other words, those deportations should never have occurred in the first place. The defendants’ eligibility for U-visas was not altered by their deportation. All 140 should never have been forced out of the United States nor separated from their families. We live in a country whose judicial system was founded on the proposition that it is better that a guilty man go free rather than a single innocent be wrongly convicted. In this case, in which Ms. Rose was intimately associated, 140 individuals were wrongly abused by the system. Why? What led to such a complete failure? If the decisions were not hers (thereby not disqualifying her from the esteemed position to which she has been nominated), then who made the decisions? The buck had to stop somewhere, and she is one of those individuals who has those answers.

     Finally, we must question the treatment of those arrested, and whether that treatment meets established norms for humane. All those rounded up and arrested at Agriprocessors in Postville were bused to National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa where they were held and tried in a makeshift jail and courtroom. Some of the accused allegedly were denied access to attorneys and to communicate with the families from which they had been seized. Perhaps the cattle building was a fabulous setting for incarceration by 3rd world standards, but it fails the “smell” test in the United States. Herding people like cattle? Did Ms. Rose really see nothing wrong with that image? If she were to sit as a judge in such a setting, would she not find it at least a bit uncomfortable? And, again, maybe the decisions were not her own. Maybe she was doing what she was told. But we need to know who instructed her that this was the way to go about getting the prosecutions so valued.

     Let me be entirely clear, it is entirely possible that Ms. Rose is as, Senator Harkin describes in his glowing praise of her as a nominee to the federal bench, a superb, ethical attorney, one who has the potential to be an outstanding federal judge. It is entirely possible that Ms. Rose may be the best candidate for the opening here in Iowa. The problem with her nomination, as I see it, is that there are still too many questions left unanswered. Her efforts to misapply felony laws in what should have been a civil proceeding have already been unanimously overturned by a divided US Supreme Court. The consultations with Judge Reade indicated by those released documents suggest that Ms. Rose or someone else in that office does not accept our Founding Fathers’ intention that the Judiciary powers be inherently separate from those of the Executive and legislative branch of government. Certainly, the actions can cause those of us on the outside to wonder whether the nominee accepts the roles of the judiciary as defined by Hamilton (Federalist #78) or Madison (Federalist #47). These are important considerations as our judges are appointed for life. They can only be removed from office by impeachment.

     Finally, when asked whether the Postville Raid and prosecutions would be an issue in her confirmation hearings, Senator Harkin, the nominating senator, seemed to choose his words carefully. According to Senator Harkin, the Judiciary Committee and the DoJ both determined that she had no knowledge of nor any hand in the implementation of the raid. If she had no knowledge of the raid, who in the office was communicating with Chief Judge Reade regarding the upcoming prosecutions for a raid that had not yet occurred? Who made the decisions to fast-track the Postville cases, resulting in at least 140 people being wrongly deported and separated from their families? Who made the decision to charge the accused with felony identity theft in a civil immigration case? If she was not a supporter of those actions, why did she defend them so strongly in the press?  Efforts by the House committee to get answers have portrayed a government that functions more like the three stooges than what we as American citizens expect of our officials. ICE, Homeland Security, the Department of Labor and other government officials claim that other agencies made the decisions. Before we agree to a lifetime appointment for someone so intimately involved in the cases, we should endeavor to get the facts straight. Our Senators should demand that the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings not rubber stamp Ms. Rose’s nomination but, rather, seek to discover who made what decisions. It is entirely possible that Ms. Rose will be the judge that Sen. Harkin envisions. But, in the case of federal judges, it is far better to make sure the right person is elevated that justice might be served for all. We as citizens ought to contact our Senators and encourage them to take a closer look at the events of Postville and Ms. Rose’s actions in it, that our Founders’ intent that the administration of our laws be impartial might be fulfilled.

     How can you help? Simply contact your Senators’ office and ask to encourage their fellow Senators on the Judiciary Committee to do their due-diligence on the matter of the Postville, IA raids. If your senator happens to be on the Judiciary Committee (its members are Patrick Leahy — VT; Charles Grassley – IA; Herb Kohl – WI; Dianne Feinstein – CA; Orrin Hatch – UT; Chuck Schumer – NY; John Kyl – AZ; Richard Durbin – IL; Jeff Sessions – AL; Sheldon Whitehouse – RI; Lindsey Graham – SC; Amy Klobuchar – MN; Cornyn – TX; Al Franken – MN; Michael Lee – UT; Christopher Coons – DE; Tom Coburn – OK; and Richard Blumenthal – CT), please take the time to contact him or her and encourage the senator to answer those questions about Postville which concern you most! Those of us in Iowa have a special obligation to bring the facts of the raid to light. Not only will Ms. Rose be a judge among us, but the events of the raid occurred beneath our very noses.

     Once again, let me be clear, this is not an effort to torpedo someone’s elevation to the federal bench. I am not asking people to oppose her nomination unless the facts that are presented dictate such.  She may be the best qualified as both Senator Harkin and President Obama assert. That some of the defense attorneys in Iowa and other judges speak in favor of her elevation certainly speaks to the qualities which Senator Harkin so admires, and the fact that people across the political divide are able to support her nomination is also good evidence of her potential jurist abilities. However, that she was a major player in the Postville raid is not in question. In public comments regarding the cases brought before the US Supreme Court, Ms. Rose has defended the prosecutor’s office actions as “good, hard work.” Now is not the time for our Senators to allow her to be silent with respect to what she witnessed, what she decided, and what she learned as a result. Nor is a time for senators to allow those individuals given the authority and responsibility to serve the public good to sound like children when pointing the finger at others. Only then, can we as citizens trust that justice will truly be served in our courtrooms and most especially in hers if she is raised to the post of Federal Judge in the Southern District of Iowa.


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