A Compromised Judiciary

Friday, May 16, 2008
George Tzamaras

WASHINGTON, DC - In a troubling turn of events, it appears that the Federal judiciary has become complicit in an effort to deprive employees of an Iowa meat packing plant of their basic rights. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) calls upon the court system and the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to restore due process and maintain the presumption of innocence.

Invoking a rarely-used provision of law, the government has scheduled mass hearings for some 300 people on questionable criminal charges, and in essence collapsed into those hearings the civil proceedings that aim to deport those individuals. Most troubling, the court itself has already issued its judgment before a single hearing has been held: a May 12, 2008, press release from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa announced the upcoming hearings of "numerous illegal aliens." Thus, before any evidence has been heard or considered on the point, hundreds of people have been labeled "illegal aliens."

No less distressing to those who value a fair legal system is the way these hearings have been structured. As many as ten defendants at a time are supposed to be "represented" by one court-appointed attorney in a single, 15-minute proceeding, giving rise to possible conflicts of interest for the attorneys, loss of privilege/confidentiality, and creating a veritable circus environment.

In addition, grave concerns about coercion of pleas have arisen. More than 300 people are being threatened with criminal charges that carry a 2-year minimum sentence, even though it appears that many did not commit the acts that constitute that crime. Nevertheless, people unfamiliar with our legal system are being told that if they don't agree to be deported, regardless of their potential rights to stay in the country or legitimate claims for relief, they will face lengthy imprisonment.

With a presumption of a violation of the law already made, and with no better than cursory hearings planned, how can justice possibly prevail?

The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal court system in Iowa have gone too far. We must not throw away the Constitution and our judicial procedures at the whim of an enforcement agency. It is time to enforce immigration laws in a manner that is effective, humane, and respectful of the judicial process which is the foundation of the American system. These most recent actions are nothing less than shameful.


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members. For more information call George Tzamaras at 202-507-7649 or Annie Wilson at 202-507-7653.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 08051960.