Three days of initial court appearances ended today for the 390 immigrants who were arrested Monday in the federal raid of a meat packing plant in Postville. Most of the Agriprocessors Incorporated workers being detained are facing criminal identity theft or other fraud charges. It’s not clear yet how many of the immigrants could be removed from the country.
Additional court procedures are scheduled to begin on Monday. Immigrant rights advocates are weighing in on how the detainees are being treated. Michelle Yehieli is the director of the Iowa Center on Health Disparities, which works with communities to address the medical needs of immigrant populations.
Yehieli spent the past three days at the National Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo and says she’s surprised at how smoothly the detention center is running. Yehieli says she has talked with many of the immigrants and has not heard of any mistreatment by the federal agents.
"In fact, I have to say all of us involved were actually amazed with the level of accommodation really," Yehieli said. Mark Grey, director of the Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration at the University of Northern Iowa, says he’s concerned about the immigrant’s lack of access to criminal defense attorneys.
"We have some very serious concerns about whether or not the detainees are fully aware of what their rights are to not just accept a plea bargin or just accept a deportation order," Grey said. The initial court appearances involved, at times, up to 10 immigrants appearing before a judge.
Grey says the public defenders brought in to represent the detainees are well intentioned but can not handle the workload. Grey says no matter how hard the public defenders work they cannot handle the caseload adequately, especially for those facing criminal charges of identity theft.
The detained workers are being held in jails in Benton, Boone, Bremer, Cerro Gordo, Hardin, Hamilton, Fayette, Linn, Polk and Story Counties. Yehieli and Grey made their comments today on the Iowa Public Radio program "The Exchange."