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May 24, 2008

112 Years in Prison

By: Bernard Chazelle

270 illegal immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents.

Don't get me wrong. I am a law-and-order kind of guy. When Maradona scored against England with his "Hand of God" in the 1986 World Cup, I had one and a half nanoseconds of sympathy for Her Majesty's team. When Bush violated international law by bombing Iraq, I had dreams of the Decider and his VP sharing bunk beds in The Hague. That's who I am. The law comes first.

OK, I believe in civil disobedience. Unjust laws should be broken. But laws that are merely bad should be changed democratically.

This is not the issue, however. America doesn't have any particular impulse to enforce laws (it breaks them routinely in Gitmo). Rather, it needs to indulge a pathological urge to lock up human beings in overcrowded prisons.

I've done the numbers before on this site, so let's not go there again. When it comes to incarceration, in both absolute and per-capita numbers, the US is off the charts.

Patriotic conservatives justify this by arguing that Americans commit more crimes and that high crime rates have no socio-economic causes. In other words, "patriots" believe that Americans are the world's worst innate scumbags, which is exactly the sentiment you would expect from a patriot.

What horrible crime did our 270 immigrants commit? They worked 14-hour shifts in a meatpacking plant without proper documentation. The nerve! You know what fun it is to get the meatpacking gig. So relieved to hear that while they rot in jail, a new batch of 270 true-blue Americans will have to take their place and enjoy the pleasure of beheading chickens and slaughtering livestock.

Bonus material: It's a kosher meatpacking plant. Which means that animals are bled to death. Leviticus is rather sketchy as to whether the meat is still kosher if the bleeding is done by an illegal Guatemalan.

Posted at May 24, 2008 11:31 AM

The "illegal Guatemalan" is kosher if he/she "aligns him/herelf, spiritually or physically,with Israel." Isaiah 66:17 and Exodus 12:49.
Religion is weirder than synchronized swimming, but without the zany humor and Betty Grable appeal of twinkling gams. If I could do it over,I'd have put "synchronized swimming" on my dog tags. (I had to fight to get an empty space. Despite what "they" say,there are atheists in foxholes.)

Posted by: donescobar at May 24, 2008 01:55 PM

AS AN AMERICAN SCUMBAG I'd sell the illegals a 'blue card' so as to at least know who(m) and where they are. (and get 50--100 bucks--each)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 24, 2008 02:41 PM

FACE FACTS, that's 270 caught but 1000 to 5000 will cross the border tonight (and every other night). Many will get caught (actually not that many compared to those that make it) but a hell of alot more than 270 will make it through. If YOU can't stop the rubes from coming to the show then YOU're better off selling tickets.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 24, 2008 03:12 PM

Postville's in my old backyard, and I was appalled to read on the packing plant's website that a rabbi who does Kosher inspections had just visited and praised the facility.

Apparently Kosher has nothing to do with the workforce, or any other laws of man.

Most disgusting is the fact that kosher meats sell for a premium, and are in short supply. They didn't have to screw those Guatemalans, they could have paid Iowans to do that work and passed the cost on to their customers.

The fact that they chose the illegal route demonstrates a profound disrespect for the law. WHY AREN'T THE COMPANY OFFICIALS LOOKING AT FIVE MONTHS IN PRISON?

Posted by: Mark Gisleson at May 24, 2008 03:32 PM

Are the company officials next? Do the authorities need the immigrants to testify against them? Is that why the senrtences were so harsh?

Posted by: cemmcs at May 24, 2008 05:13 PM

How much fine/sentance did the employer get? My crazy cousin that use to race funny cars before that gig fixed wrecked corvetes. To maximize profit he used stolen parts. The guy he was buying parts from got busted and rolled over on all his clientel. My cousin's court date happened to be the same day as the thief's. He pled guilty throwing himself on the mercy of the court. The judge gave him 60 days in county, the same sentence as the guy he was buying the part from (who was sentenced before him). When asked if he had anything to say he protested the same sentence. The judge replied "If you weren't buyin' 'em he (pointing to the thief) wouldn't be sellin' 'em." If you don't see the soultion to the imagration prolem in this story your name is probably Lou Dobbs. To the people who say Americans won't do these jobs I point to the fact that Americans DID these jobs when they were union and payed good (read late 70's before Iowa Beef Packers and a couple of other companies bought up the slaughter houses and broke up the unions. I saw it in my home state of Nebraska (a right to bust unions state).

Posted by: dan at May 24, 2008 08:21 PM

Dan's right, its easier and cheaper to pay a coyote than to pay a union wage.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 24, 2008 10:42 PM

The caption on the NYT photo for this story:

"Immigration officials lined up illegal immigrants on Thursday at the National Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo, Iowa."

I live in Guatemala. This will be huge news here.

One aspect: the federal crime they pleaded guilty to was "identity theft". Yet the social security cards they were working on may well have been sold or given willingly originally (though they had probably been through many hands). Is that really theft then?

I guess it's like statutory rape - in the eyes of the law, some transactions are never willing. Or like the totally hypothetical and irrelevant case where a US citizen "freely" agreed to work 14 hour days without overtime - no paper they could sign would immunize their employer from prosecution. What a surprise that in this case, the law denies the existence of free will only in the ways that are detrimental to the Guatemalans.

Posted by: homunq at May 24, 2008 11:22 PM

If I could do it over,I'd have put "synchronized swimming" on my dog tags.

you be pope of the SSC; i'll be the grand inquisitor...heh

Posted by: woody, tokin librul at May 25, 2008 11:36 AM

Great post. Before I got to the end, I was thinking about how those jobs are even worse than you describe. The huge commercial slaughterhouses are supposed to be some of the most dangerous workplaces in the country, with all kinds of ways to be injured or killed. I would guess that a kosher plant is somewhat more hospitable, but still. There is something so perverse in these kind of stories.

Posted by: Greg at May 25, 2008 12:34 PM

I would guess that a kosher plant is somewhat more hospitable


This one certainly isn't, and has systematically employed and exploited undocumented immigrant workers since it opened (at first mostly Russian and Eastern Europeans, then as that supply dried up, Central Americans).

Posted by: Nell at May 25, 2008 07:17 PM

If anything, a kosher (or halal) slaughterhouse would be less hospitable. The bizarre requirement that animals be fully conscious when slaughtered (because otherwise Invisible Sky Daddy will be sad) exempts the shoykhet from many federal regulations (which are pretty much toothless and unenforced anyway). Speed, efficiency, and above all profit are valued by slaughterhouses, as they are first and foremost businesses. The only "duty" is to maximize profits. Workplace safety is only an issue insofar as it presents a liability: when your workforce is afraid to complain because they can be arrested or deported,
it's plainly irresponsible to treat them with a modicum of concern and respect. As for the animals, well, holy shit it's a hundred times moreso for them.

Posted by: Doctorb at May 26, 2008 06:11 PM