The administration takes immigration enforcement to a new level:
270 Illegal Immigrants Sent to Prison in Federal Push, by Julia Preston, NY Times: In temporary courtrooms at a fairgrounds here, 270 illegal immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents.
The prosecutions, which ended Friday, signal a sharp escalation in the Bush administration’s crackdown on illegal workers, with prosecutors bringing tough federal criminal charges against most of the immigrants arrested... Until now, unauthorized workers have generally been detained by immigration officials for civil violations and rapidly deported. ...
The unusually swift proceedings, in which 297 immigrants pleaded guilty and were sentenced in four days, were criticized by criminal defense lawyers, who warned of violations of due process. ...
The illegal immigrants, most from Guatemala, filed into the courtrooms in groups of 10, their hands and feet shackled. One by one, they entered guilty pleas through a Spanish interpreter... Moments later, they moved to another courtroom for sentencing. ... Most immigrants agreed to immediate deportation after they serve five months in prison.
The hearings took place on the grounds of the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, in mobile trailers and in a dance hall modified with black curtains, beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing several nights until 10. On Wednesday alone, 94 immigrants pleaded guilty and were sentenced...
The large number of criminal cases was remarkable because immigration violations generally fall under civil statutes. Until now, relatively few immigrants caught in raids have been charged with federal crimes like identity theft or document fraud.
“To my knowledge, the magnitude of these indictments is completely unprecedented,” said Juliet Stumpf, an immigration law professor... “It’s the reliance on criminal process here as part of an immigration enforcement action that takes this out of the ordinary, a startling intensification of the criminalization of immigration law.” ...
Kathleen Campbell Walker, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that intricate issues could arise in some cases, for example where immigrants had children and spouses who were legal residents or United States citizens. Those issues “could not be even cursorily addressed in the time frame being forced upon these individuals and their overburdened counsel.”
Linda R. Reade, the chief judge who approved the emergency court setup, said she was confident there had been no rush to justice. In an interview, Judge Reade said prosecutors had organized the immigrants’ detention to make it easy for their lawyers to meet with them. The prosecutors, she said, “have tried to be fair in their charging.”
The immigration lawyers, Judge Reade said, “do not understand the federal criminal process as it relates to immigration charges.”
That last part confuses me. How was the process fair if immigration lawyers don't understand it? The Judge seems to be arguing that the process was fair because prosecutors adjusted their charges to compensate for the fact that immigration lawyers don't understand federal procedures. If so, I don't get that argument.
But the main question is, as George Borjas notes, why did the administration choose to pursue this now? They haven't hesitated to politicize the Justice Department to suit their needs, so does this help Bush's reputation or McCain's chances of winning the election?
Update: I probably should have included this part - these issues have come up in comments:
No charges have been brought against managers or owners at Agriprocessors, but there were indications that prosecutors were also preparing a case against the company. In pleading guilty, immigrants had to agree to cooperate with any investigation.
Chaim Abrahams, a representative of Agriprocessors, said in a statement that he could not comment about specific accusations but that the company was cooperating with the government.
Aaron Rubashkin, the owner of Agriprocessors, announced Friday that he had begun a search to replace his son Sholom as the chief executive of the company. Agriprocessors is the country’s largest producer of kosher meat, sold under brands like Aaron’s Best. ... Normally it employs about 800 workers, and in recent years the majority of them have come from rural Guatemala.
Since 2004, the plant has faced repeated sanctions for environmental and worker safety violations. It was the focus of a 2006 exposé in The Jewish Daily Forward and a commission of inquiry that year by Conservative Jewish leaders.