In a unanimous decision the U.S Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the federal identity theft statute may not be used against many undocumented workers who used false social security numbers to get jobs. The case was Flores-Figueroa v. United States http://tinyurl.com/d2eedn.
Coincidentally, the Court’s decision comes just shy of May 12, 2009, the 1 year anniversary of the Postiville raid–the largest ICE worksite enforcement operation in U.S. history–which resulted in the criminal conviction of nearly 300 undocumented workers who had been arrested at the Agriprocessors meat packing facility in Postville, Iowa. The workers were subjected to a fast-track conviction-deportation assembly line concocted by the government and implemented against them at the National Cattle Congress fairgounds in Waterloo, Iowa. There they where penned in like cattle awaiting slaughter while the government brazenly threatened them with prosecution under the federal indentity theft statute which carries a 2 year mandatory minimum prison sentence. The federal prosecutors used the law as a hammer to coerce the workers, most of whom were uneducated Guatamalan farmers, into pleading guilty to document fraud, which carried a much lighter 5 month prison sentence, and accepting automatic deportation.
What the government didn’t expect was the public outrage that followed. The compelling testimony of Professor Erik Camayd-Freixas, a court interpreter, whose vivid description of the court proceedings was featured in the New York Times and other major media, raised serious legal and ethical questions about the government’s use of the identity theft statute as a hammer against the workers. http://tinyurl.com/d5dg7p.
In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision there can be no doubt that the Postville convictions are a national disgrace. Attorney General Eric Holder must act quickly to remove the stain these prosecutions have left on our judicial system. He should order a full investigation, including a review of the facts of each defendant’s case, with an eye on dismissing the charges against those workers for whom the threat of prosecution under the federal identity statute was a miscarriage of justice.