A Federal Judge Put Hundreds of Immigrants Behind Bars While Her Husband Invested in Private Prisons

udge Linda Reade’s husband bought more prison stock five days before one of the nation’s biggest immigration raids.

Judge Linda Reade’s husband bought more prison stock five days before one of the nation’s biggest immigration raids.

It was almost lunchtime inside the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, on May 12, 2008. The meatpackers, mostly migrants from Guatemala and Mexico, wore earplugs to block out the noise of the machinery and couldn’t hear the two black helicopters hovering overhead or the hundreds of armed federal immigration agents closing in around them until the production line stopped. One worker tried to flee with his knives, stabbing himself in the leg when he was pushed to the ground. “They rounded us up toward the middle like a bunch of chickens,” a 42-year-old Guatemalan worker later recalled. “Those who were hiding were beaten and shackled.”

Nearly 400 workers were arrested in the bust, which cost $5 million and was then the biggest workplace immigration raid in US history. They were driven to the National Cattle Congress, a fairground in Waterloo, where several federal judges would handle their cases over nine business days. Hearings were held in trailers and a dance hall. Cots were set up for the defendants in a nearby gymnasium. At the time, undocumented immigrants caught in raids like this were usually charged with civil violations and then deported. But most of these defendants, shackled and dragging chains behind them, were charged with criminal fraud for using falsified work documents or Social Security numbers. About 270 people were sentenced to five months in federal prison, in a process that one witness described as a “judicial assembly line.”

Overseeing the process was Judge Linda R. Reade, the chief judge of the Northern District of Iowa. She defended the decision to turn a fairground into a courthouse, saying the proceedings were fair and unhurried. The incident sparked allegations of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct and led to congressional hearings. Erik Camayd-Freixas, an interpreter who had worked at the Waterloo proceedings, testified that most of the Spanish-speaking defendants had been pressured to plead guilty. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said the unconventional process seemed “like a cattle auction, not a criminal prosecution in the United States of America.”

By Samantha Michaels for MOTHER JONES
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