By Kelly M. Anderson
Plead guilty and the U.S. government will not charge you with the felony of identity theft, but rather offer a "bargain" of 6 months in prison followed by deportation. Plead not guilty, request a trial, wait several months in jail for a trial, and then face the prospect of 2 years in prison. . . followed by deportation.
If you were one of the 390 undocumented immigrants working at a plant in Postville, Iowa on May 12, 2008, these would be your options. Although using a false social security card carries a jail sentence of 0-6 months, the careful manipulation of circumstances and distortion of congressional intent allowed the federal government to charge the Postville detainees with identity theft which carries a two year jail sentence. Yet, as author Erik Camayd-Freixas explains in his article, "Interpreting after the Largest ICE Raid in US History: A Personal Account" (2008), less than .5% of the detainees may have been guilty of identity theft.
Freixas asks why the U.S. government would spend tax payer dollars to imprison and provide legal counsel for detainees held under false charges rather than immediately send them home. His investigation led him to conclude that this activity has been undertaken to justify the expansiveness of the DHS budget - it was a means of creating work. Last fall, I attended an information session for a DHS fellows program. DHS now has 16 offices and most are only vaguely, if at all, related to border enforcement. Can we hope that this expansion into other fields of tremendous national interest and importance will reduce the urge to manipulate U.S. law and unnecessarily persecute undocumented immigrants?
Yet, it is too easy to simply demonize ICE, immigration judges and other immigration officials. Throughout the article, Freixas subtly suggests that we do not need more reasonable executors of the law, but rather a more reasonable law to be executed. We need a system of accountability that assures that appropriate authorities are interpreting the law according to constitutionally defined roles and that publicly-funded assignments are justified by potential public benefit, and not to retroactively justify a budget.
Just prior to his deportation, one Guatemalan arrested in Postville summed up the paradox nicely when he said, "God knows you are just doing your job to support your families, and that job is to keep me from supporting mine."
By Kelly M. Anderson, Master of Public Policy Candidate, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.
From mid-April to mid-May 2010, selected students from Professor Katherine Fennelly's course "PA5452: Immigration and Public Policy" are sharing thoughts on their readings with IHRC readers.