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Postville Aftermath: 302 Detainees Charged Criminally, 297 Plead Guilty
Ten days ago federal authorities surrounded Agriprocessors, a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, and took 389 workers into custody on possible immigration violations. Within 48 hours officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office Northern District of Iowa and Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that the first 20 arrests on criminal charges had taken place. By the time another 48 hours had passed, the public learned that a total of 305 of the 389 detained would face criminal charges, and that those charges would take precedence over any immigration proceedings.
Today — the last day makeshift courtroom facilities at the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo were used — the final groups of those accused were shackled and walked before a judge to enter their pleas. A full 98 percent, or 297 of the 302 detainees facing criminal charges, opted to enter a guilty plea and accept a lesser sentence. They will be deported and banned from reentering the United States for the rest of their lives.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office originally indicated 305 had been arrested on criminal wrongdoing. After that announcement was made, six cases involving juveniles were dismissed and three additional defendants were arrested. Of the 302 that faced criminal charges, only five did not opt to enter a guilty plea. Those five individuals will make their next court appearances at the federal building in Cedar Rapids next week during preliminary hearings.
“Months of investigation and operational planning really paid off and allowed us to move through so many cases since May 12,” said Matt Dummermuth, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa. “Other key factors include ICE’s substantial commitment of personnel and resources, the outstanding cooperation of a number of other vital law enforcement agencies, and the flexibility of the court in moving its operations to Waterloo. But the single biggest reason for the astonishing success of this operation to date has been the dedication, expertise and around-the-clock work during the last two weeks of the people involved, including employees from my office, from all of the participating law enforcement agencies and from the federal court.”
While continuing to praise those who worked additional hours to complete the task at hand, Dummermuth also took exception to those who spread “misinformation” in the wake of the raid.
While long hours and challenging circumstances were faced, those involved acted with professionalism and respect for the Constitution and the rule of law,” he said. “It is unfortunate that those with their own agenda have spread misinformation — ignoring the fact that 297 people admitted their crimes and accepted the consequences of their actions. There have been no checkpoints, no random checks, and no house-to-house sweeps as have been rumored. Those arrested were provided with attorneys before they decided to plea guilty, and we are working with the Department of Labor to see to it that employees who are in custody receive their final paychecks.”
Claud Arnold, special agent in charge of ICE’s Office of Investigations, echoed both Dummermuth’s praise and criticisms.
“Despite the usual spate of false allegations and baseless rumors, this operation and its follow-up activities were carried out with the utmost professionalism,” Arnold said. “Dozens of arrested adults were released to care for their children, 23 juveniles were turned over to responsible adults or to specialists, and every detainee was treated with respect and dignity at all times.”
Scott Baniecke, field office director for ICE’s Detention and Removal Operations, said that detainess were given access to phones as well as a medical staff. He added that those accused were provided “secure, private areas” to meet with attorneys and officials from their home countries.
The final day of court in the Waterloo facility was subdued. Hearings began at 8 a.m. and concluded at roughly 6 p.m.
The final breakdown of the criminal cases are as follows:
- 230 were sentenced to five months in prison and three additional years of supervision for using identification that belonged to another person to obtain employment.
- 30 were sentenced to five months in prison and three additional years of supervision for using a Social Security number or card that belonged to another person to obtain employment.
- 8 were sentenced to five months in prison and three additional years of supervision for illegal entry into the United States.
- 2 were sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison and three additional years of supervision for using identification that belonged to another person to obtain employment.
- 21 were sentenced to five years of probation for using completely fake identification to obtain employment.
- 2 were sentenced to five years of probation for using completely fake Social Security numbers or cards.
- 4 were sentenced to five years of probation for illegal reentry into the United States.
Of the 297 individuals sentenced, the vast majority — 248 or 83.5 percent — came from Guatemala. There were also 48 individuals (16.2 percent) who came from Mexico and one man from the Ukraine.
Although the vast majority of criminal prosecutions has been completed, Arnold made a point of noting that the investigation, led by ICE, is ongoing. An official in the U.S. Attorney’s Office also indicated that the investigation remains open.