Criminal defense and immigration lawyers yesterday challenged the government’s use of expedited trials to convict 306 illegal immigrant workers at a meat processing plant in Iowa in May, arguing that fast-tracked group trials violated defendants’ rights, reports the Washington Post. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, said after a day-long hearing that she found the Justice Department’s actions against workers at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in Postville, Iowa, “to be unusual and provocative, and I do have questions about whether they meet the requirements of due process that is guaranteed in our Constitution.”
A Justice Department official said all defendants were provided with criminal defense lawyers and interpreters, as well as access to immigration lawyers and consular officials. The government convicted and sentenced most defendants in four days at temporary court and detention facilities. The defendants, most from Guatemala, were processed in groups of 10. Most were charged with aggravated identity theft with the promise of at least a six-month stay in jail until trial, a mandatory two-year prison sentence if found guilty and deportation whether they were found guilty or not. Or they could plead guilty to a lesser charge of document fraud, serve five months in prison and be deported. Most agreed to the latter.