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ICYMI: “Rubashkin’s Sentence Commutation is ‘Win for Anti-Immigrant and Anti-Worker Forces’”

 

A new blog post from Van Le, Digital Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, runs through an important immigration-related development that many have missed: President Trump’s commutation of a sentence for serial immigrant-abuser Sholom Rubashkin, of Agriprocessors infamy.  Le writes:

Donald Trump commuted the prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, the former owner of Agriprocessors, the Postville, Iowa kosher meatpacking plant that was the site of a huge immigration raid in 2008.

Rubashkin, after the raid, was charged for immigration-related offenses but ultimately went to prison for bank fraud. Before being freed, he served eight years out of a 27-year prison sentence.

It should be remembered that Agriprocessors, even before the Postville raid, was a site of horrible labor abuse, where workers were forced to pay bribes, went unpaid for hours worked, received little training or safety equipment, and even sometimes suffered amputations. As one rabbi on Twitter said, the commutation of Rubashkin’s sentence is “a win for anti-immigrant and anti-worker forces.”

In 2008, America’s Voice Education Fund worked with United Food and Commercial Workers, HIAS, and other groups to expose Rubashkin’s immoral treatment of workers in his plant, as well as the outrageous conduct the U.S. government exhibited in carrying out this massive, military-style raid.  The impact of this horrific action on the affected families and the town of Postville itself is well documented and has been the subject of numerous congressional hearings.

As the New York Times editorial board wrote at the time:

Anyone who has doubts that this country is abusing and terrorizing undocumented immigrant workers should read an essay by Erik Camayd-Freixas, a professor and Spanish-language court interpreter who witnessed the aftermath of a huge immigration workplace raid at a meatpacking plant in Iowa.

The essay chillingly describes what Dr. Camayd-Freixas saw and heard as he translated for some of the nearly 400 undocumented workers who were seized by federal agents at the Agriprocessors kosher plant in Postville in May.

Under the old way of doing things, the workers, nearly all Guatemalans, would have been simply and swiftly deported. But in a twist of Dickensian cruelty, more than 260 were charged as serious criminals for using false Social Security numbers or residency papers, and most were sentenced to five months in prison.

What is worse, Dr. Camayd-Freixas wrote, is that the system was clearly rigged for the wholesale imposition of mass guilt. He said the court-appointed lawyers had little time in the raids’ hectic aftermath to meet with the workers, many of whom ended up waiving their rights and seemed not to understand the complicated charges against them.

Dr. Camayd-Freixas’s essay describes “the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see” — because cameras were forbidden.

“Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10.”

Today, Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund said:

Surprise, surprise: Donald Trump used his presidential powers to help a second serial immigrant abuser. First, he pardoned the criminal ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio, and now he’s commuted the sentence of Agriprocessors’ Rubashkin, who got rich by exploiting immigrants in a modern-day rewrite of ‘The Jungle.’ This is just another dark deed in Trump’s long list.

As Le’s blog post details:

In 2006, the Jewish newspaper The Forward ran an expose on Agriprocessors that detailed the harsh working conditions at the plant. As a result, a commission was organized by Conservative Jewish leaders that criticized the plant’s operations, and a member of that commission proposed a new system of kosher certification that would take into consideration the working conditions where kosher food was proposed.

As The Forward wrote about the plant and some of its workers before the 2008 raid:

One of those workers — a woman who agreed to be identified by the pseudonym Juana — came to this rural corner of Iowa a year ago from Guatemala. Since then, she has worked 10-to-12-hour night shifts, six nights a week. Her cutting hand is swollen and deformed, but she has no health insurance to have it checked. She works for wages, starting at $6.25 an hour and stopping at $7, that several industry experts described as the lowest of any slaughterhouse in the nation.

Juana and other employees at AgriProcessors — they total about 800 — told The Forward that they receive virtually no safety training. This is an anomaly in an industry in which the tools are designed to cut and grind through flesh and bones. In just one month last summer, two young men required amputations; workers say there have been others since. The chickens and cattle fly by at a steady clip on metal hooks, and employees said they are berated for not working fast enough. In addition, employees told of being asked to bribe supervisors for better shifts and of being shortchanged on paychecks regularly.

The story went on to detail Agriprocessors’ abysmal conditions and treatment of its workers, even compared to similar plants. The little training that was done was often not conducted in Spanish, weekly paychecks would regularly come up three to four hours short, and a supervisor would tell workers to buy a car from him if they wanted a better shift or have a relative hired.

Agriprocessors itself was tagged with six violations in a year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), more than half of all violations in Iowa meat packing plants in that time. The company also paid $600,000 to settle with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to resolve wastewater pollution problems, and was assessed $182,000 in fines for 39 health, safety, and labor violations.

“This employer has a long history of violating every law that’s out there – labor laws, environmental laws, now immigration laws,” Mark Lauritsen of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which at one point tried to unionize the plant, told the Washington Post.

“We’re human beings, not animals,” one worker told The Forward.

Read Le’s entire blog post here.