By Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas

I was one of 16 interpreters who served both weeks of the Postville hearings. Unlike judges, prosecutors, or attorneys, I was present at every step of the process. It is my duty as an impartial expert witness and officer of the court to ensure that the court is not misled, and to bring to its attention any impediments to due process.

I have done so in the best interest of the Federal Court I am proud to serve, and with the conviction that if our honorable judges had known how this judicial experiment would turn out, they would have never allowed it.

During these two weeks in May I observed these flaws:

· Detainees’ quarters were not certified.
· The court failed to maintain physical and operational independence from ICE prosecution, and a level playing field for the defense.
· There was inadequate access to counsel.
· No meaningful presumption of innocence.
· Defendants appeared not to understand their rights and charges.
· Bail hearings and other due process rights were denied.
· The charge of identity theft, used to force a plea, lacked foundation and was never tested for probable cause.
· Defendants did not know what a Social Security Number was, and were not guilty of “intent” crimes.
· Guilty pleas were obtained under duress.
· Judges had no sentencing discretion, pursuant to a binding plea agreement.
· Sole providers, whose families are in jeopardy, now endure a cruel and unusual psychological punishment, the foreseeable effect of prison time on common parents.

Abridgement of process produced wholesale injustice at the other end:

· Parents, begging to be deported: put in jail at public expense.
· Proud working mothers: branded like cattle with the scarlet letter of an ankle monitor, dehumanized, and reduced to begging at the doors of the church, as they were released on “humanitarian grounds.”
· The town of Postville devastated; and the kinship ties our noble people are quick to forge with all newcomers, painfully severed.
· Families and friends separated.

I saw the Bill of Rights denied and democratic values threatened by the breakdown of checks and balances. And it all appeared to be within the framework of the law, pursuant to a broken immigration system.

Postville lays bare a grave distortion in the legal structure of government.
Post 9/11, ICE was granted power to wage the war on terror. But since 2006, it has diverted resources, even from disaster relief, to an escalating and unauthorized war on immigration.
The fact is our laws have not kept up with the growth in enforcement. Congress failed to pass immigration reform and ICE has filled the legal void by enacting its own version of it.

Now, we have a serious contradiction: the growth of authoritarian rule inside a democratic government. This entity can simultaneously wield immigration and criminal codes, plus issue administrative rules; leaving no room for constitutional guarantees. It co-opts other branches of government: Social Security, US Attorney, Federal Court…and uses appropriations to recruit local police for immigration enforcement: setting neighbor against neighbor, and dangerously dividing the nation.

With the help of local sheriffs, Postville repeats itself daily, while the harshness of border enforcement is reenacted in the American Heartland, with great collateral damage to our citizens and communities. It is a rush, to raid as much as possible, before Congress regains the vision and courage of the Founding Fathers to restore the law of the land. Part of immigration reform is redefining ICE jurisdiction over immigration and criminal matters, without impairing the agency’s ability to defend us from terrorist threats.
Our national unity requires not just comprehensive, but compassionate immigration reform, to befit the dignity of this great country, built upon the shoulders of immigrants, by their children.
Camayd is a professor of modern languages at Florida International University.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 8/08