Erik Camayd-Freixas: the federal court interpreter gives an insider's account of the justice system after one of the largest immigration raids in U.S. history.You arrived in Postville, Iowa, Last May immediately after an immigration immigration, entrance of a person (an alien) into a new country for the purpose of establishing permanent residence. Motives for immigration, like those for migration generally, are often economic, although religious or political factors may be very important. raid at a meatpacking meatpacking or meat-processing, wholesale business of buying and slaughtering animals and then processing and distributing their carcasses to retailers. The livestock industry is among the largest in the world. plant led to the arrests of nearly 400 workers--many of them Guatemalan. How would you describe the scene? These raids are paramilitary operations. Their distribution and resources, their trailers, are all based on a military plan. It was very, very tight security. There were hundreds of armed agents. There was one trailer alone that was an actual arsenal. They also had an evacuation plan in case of a riot for the civilians. It was very much Guantanamo-style.
How did the courts operate under these conditions? Judges and prosecutors never get to see the real human situation up close because they don't get to interview the defendants in private. From that safe moral distance, it's very easy to prosecute and convict and condemn. In fact I only saw one person do this--a Ukrainian woman spoke in court about her young daughter who was so ill, whose hair had fallen out and needed an operation or she would have died. She came to the U.S. to work to save her daughter in Ukraine.
When the lawyers and interpreters went to the jail interviews, to meet one-on-one, we spent hours interviewing people and getting their whole story. There was a man who walked for 40 days from Guatemala to the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. . Imagine the other 269 stories of people sitting in jail!
If you saw what these people are going through as parents ... it's an absolute violation of human rights. In jail, whenever people cried telling their stories, they never cried for themselves, but for their children and what they would have to go through.
Immigrants were given options of choosing five months in jail followed by deportation deportation, expulsion of an alien from a country by an act of its government. The term is not applied ordinarily to sending a national into exile or to committing one convicted of crime to an overseas penal colony (historically called transportation). or waiting to be tried. How did you interpret this for immigrants? These so-called options were no options at all. They basically gave the lawyers a 15-or 20-page plea agreement to read in Spanish. For most of the detainees, Spanish was a second language for them. Even if they understood the Spanish, they never would have understood the legal jargon. It was hard enough for me to understand it.
We had to say, "Okay, if you plead guilty, you get five months and get deported, but if you plead not guilty, you face a trial. If convicted, you get a minimum of two years."
They would say, "Trial? I cannot win. I know I have no rights." And the lawyers and interpreters, we would say, " Yes, you do!" And they would say, "No we don't. I'm illegal." They would look at us with a smile like they had pity for us and how little we understood about the U.S. "They're telling us we have rights, but here we are in jail--what cloud did you come from?"
How did the government fast-track legal proceedings All actions that are authorized or sanctioned by law and instituted in a court or a tribunal for the acquisition of rights or the enforcement of remedies. for hundreds of immigrants? It was the same type of prosecutorial pros·e·cu·to·ri·al
Of, relating to, or concerned with prosecution: "a huge investigative and prosecutorial effort" Lucian K. Truscott IV. strategies used with drug dealers and murderers: threatening them with a bogus inflated charge of aggravated ag·gra·vate
tr.v. ag·gra·vat·ed, ag·gra·vat·ing, ag·gra·vates
1. To make worse or more troublesome.
2. To rouse to exasperation or anger; provoke. See Synonyms at annoy. identity theft to get them to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Then, they get branded as criminal aliens and are barred from ever entering the U.S. legally.
The Whole thing was unjust and cruel. It's all calculated. They say, "Hey, they're going to have to take five months, especially if they have families back home depending on them." The survival of these families' children was being held ransom over their heads to get these immigrants to plead guilty and get deported
Immigration attorneys were not allowed in because the government said, "These are criminal proceedings."
They are doing their own brand of immigration reform Immigration reform is the common term used in political discussions regarding changes to immigration policy. In a certain sense, reform can be general enough to include promoted, expanded, or open immigration, but in reality discussions of reform often deal with the aspect of without Congress's approval. The Department of Homeland Security Noun 1. Department of Homeland Security - the federal department that administers all matters relating to homeland security
executive department - a federal department in the executive branch of the government of the United States and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have been accused of this many times. But now they've also taken over the role of the judiciary. This is an assault on democracy.
Have you seen anything like this before? I was born in Cuba. The stuff I saw reminded me of growing up in a totalitarian regime. Democracy is something you need to defend. It starts getting perverted per·vert·ed
1. Deviating from what is considered normal or correct.
2. Of, relating to, or practicing sexual perversion. this way. We are losing the War on Terror This article is about U.S. actions, and those of other states, after September 11, 2001. For other conflicts, see Terrorism.
The War on Terror (also known as the War on Terrorism because we have internalized this terror. We are inflicting it on our own population. We are doing the terrorists' job for them. We are denying civil liberties to people in our country.
You wrote an essay about this experience as a federal court interpreter that turned out to be a searing sear 1
v. seared, sear·ing, sears
1. To char, scorch, or burn the surface of with or as if with a hot instrument. See Synonyms at burn1.
2. indictment of immigration policy An immigration policy is any policy of a state that affects the transit of persons across its borders, but especially those that intend to work and to remain in the country. today. What compelled you to write it? When I got home, after what I considered was a traumatic experience from a moral and human standpoint, I needed to debrief de·brief
tr.v. de·briefed, de·brief·ing, de·briefs
1. To question to obtain knowledge or intelligence gathered especially on a military mission.
2. . I just felt a certain amount of guilt for having participated in such a procedure. I felt dirty.
I've been associated with the federal court for 23 years and I'm very protective of the federal court. I've always seen it as a bastion of justice. I felt like the court was being manipulated into the situation by immigration enforcement.
Have any of the responses to your essay given you hope? I got a letter from Postville from a sewer worker. He wrote so eloquently, and said, "I just cannot wrap my mind around what has happened here. There is nothing I can hang my hat on as to why they would torment my neighbors and friends like this. Thank you for your essay. At least people are talking about it now so that future generations will look back with shame. I know there are people doing good and I am very proud to see high school students helping these families out--fourth-and fifth-generation German immigrants donating food to these families. I have seen the worst and best in humanity."
Julianne Ong Hing is an editorial assistant at ColorLines.
* For the full interview and Camayd-Freixas's essay about interpreting during court proceedings in Iowa, go to colorlines.com.