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 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 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, ATF and other agencies invaded a small town in Iowa.
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 no money. Simply put, coyotes allegedly had trafficked victims to Iowa and got them jobs at the plant. The coyotes collected the money that the employees had earned. Additionally, some women had been trafficked into the area to “service” individuals 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 ever 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, however, is whether Ms. Rose should be the one so honored.
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, Ms. Rose 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 she would engage in this type of prosecution again or allow it to occur under her watch as a judge, if faced with similar circumstances. 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. The questions of her suitability for a position on the federal bench, however, do not end with her passionate efforts to get convictions quickly, nor does her passion and zeal atomically disqualify her.
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 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. 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). In a matter of a few days (yes, the cases were expedited), 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. 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.
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?
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, as I see it, is that there are still too many questions. 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 either does not accept our Founding Fathers’ intention that the Judiciary powers be inherently separate from those of the Executive and legislative branch of government, or she is simply a modern version of Colonel Klink. 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). This is important 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 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? 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 decisions. Before we agree to a lifetime appointment for someone so intimately involved in the cases, we should endeavor to get the facts. 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.