An Interpreter Speaking Up for Migrants
The New York Times
July 11, 2008
An Interpreter Speaking Up for Migrants
By JULIA PRESTON
WATERLOO, Iowa — In 23 years as a certified Spanish interpreter for federal courts, Erik Camayd-Freixas has spoken up in criminal trials many times, but the words he uttered were rarely his own.
Then he was summoned here by court officials to translate in the hearings for nearly 400 illegal immigrant workers arrested in a raid on May 12 at a meatpacking plant. Since then, Mr. Camayd-Freixas, a professor of Spanish at Florida International University, has taken the unusual step of breaking the code of confidentiality among legal interpreters about their work.
In a 14-page essay he circulated among two dozen other interpreters who worked here, Professor Camayd-Freixas wrote that the immigrant defendants whose words he translated, most of them villagers from Guatemala, did not fully understand the criminal charges they were facing or the rights most of them had waived.
In the essay and an interview, Professor Camayd-Freixas said he was taken aback by the rapid pace of the proceedings and the pressure prosecutors brought to bear on the defendants and their lawyers by pressing criminal charges instead of deporting the workers immediately for immigration violations.
He said defense lawyers had little time or privacy to meet with their court-assigned clients in the first hectic days after the raid. Most of the Guatemalans could not read or write, he said. Most did not understand that they were in criminal court.
“The questions they asked showed they did not understand what was going on,” Professor Camayd-Freixas said in the interview. “The great majority were under the impression they were there because of being illegal in the country, not because of Social Security fraud.”
During fast-paced hearings in May, 262 of the illegal immigrants pleaded guilty in one week and were sentenced to prison — most for five months — for knowingly using false Social Security cards or legal residence documents to gain jobs at the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in nearby Postville. It was the largest criminal enforcement operation ever carried out by immigration authorities at a workplace.
The essay has provoked new questions about the Agriprocessors proceedings, which had been criticized by criminal defense and immigration lawyers as failing to uphold the immigrants’ right to due process. Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee, said she would hold a hearing on the prosecutions and call Professor Camayd-Freixas as a witness.
“The essay raises questions about whether the charges brought were supported by the facts,” Ms. Lofgren said.
Bob Teig, a spokesman for Matt M. Dummermuth, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, said the immigrants’ constitutional rights were not compromised.
“All defendants were provided with experienced criminal attorneys and interpreters before they made any decisions in their criminal cases,” Mr. Teig said. “Once they made their choices, two independent judicial officers determined the defendants were making their choices freely and voluntarily, were satisfied with their attorney, and were, in fact, guilty.”
Mr. Teig said the judges in the cases were satisfied with the guilty pleas.
“The judges had the right and duty to reject any guilty plea where a defendant was not guilty,” Mr. Teig said. “No plea was rejected.”
The essay by Professor Camayd-Freixas, who is the director of a program to train language interpreters at the university, has also caused a stir among legal interpreters. In telephone calls and debates through e-mail, they have discussed whether it was appropriate for a translator to speak publicly about conversations with criminal defendants who were covered by legal confidentiality.
“It is quite unusual that a legal interpreter would go to this length of writing up an essay=2 0and taking a strong stance,” said Nataly Kelly, an analyst with Common Sense Advisory, a marketing research company focused on language services. Ms. Kelly is a certified legal interpreter who is the author of a manual about interpreting.
The Agriprocessors hearings were held in temporary courtrooms in mobile trailers and a ballroom at the National Cattle Congress, a fairgrounds here in Waterloo. Professor Camayd-Freixas worked with one defense lawyer, Sara L. Smith, translating her discussions with nine clients she represented. He also worked in courtrooms during plea and sentencing hearings.
Ms. Smith praised Professor Camayd-Freixas’s essay, saying it captured the immigrants’ distress during “the surreal two weeks” of the proceedings. She said he had not revealed information that was detrimental to her cases.
But she cautioned that interpreters should not commonly speak publicly about conversations between lawyers and clients. “It is not a practice that I would generally advocate as I could envision circumstances under which such revelations could be damaging to a client’s case,” Ms. Smith said.
Professor Camayd-Freixas said he had considered withdrawing from the assignment, but decided instead that he could play a valuable role by witnessing the proceedings and making them known.
He suggested many of the immigrants could not have knowingly committed the crimes in their pleas. “Most of the clients we interviewed did not ev en know what a Social Security card was or what purpose it served,” he wrote.
He said many immigrants could not distinguish between a Social Security card and a residence visa, known as a green card. They said they had purchased fake documents from smugglers in Postville, or obtained them directly from supervisors at the Agriprocessors plant. Most did not know that the original cards could belong to Americans and legal immigrants, Mr. Camayd-Freixas said.
Ms. Smith went repeatedly over the charges and the options available to her clients, Professor Camayd-Freixas said. He cited the reaction of one Guatemalan, Isaías Pérez Martínez: “No matter how many times his attorney explained it, he kept saying, ‘I’m illegal, I have no rights. I’m nobody in this country. Just do whatever you want with me.’ ”
Professor Camayd-Freixas said Mr. Pérez Martínez wept during much of his meeting with Ms. Smith.
Ms. Smith, like more than a dozen other court-appointed defense lawyers, concluded that none of the immigrants’ legal options were good. Prosecutors had evidence showing they had presented fraudulent documents when they were hired at Agriprocessors.
In plea agreements offered by Mr. Dummermuth, the immigrants could plead guilty to a document fraud charge and serve five months in prison. Otherwise, prosecutors would try them on more serious identity theft charges carrying a mandatory sentence of two years. In anyscenario, even if they were acquitted, the immigrants would eventually be deported.
Worried about families they had been supporting with their wages, the immigrants readily chose to plead guilty because they did understand that was the fastest way to return home, Professor Camayd-Freixas said.
“They were hoping and they were begging everybody to deport them,” he said.
Ms. Smith said she was convinced after examining the prosecutors’ evidence that it was not in her clients’ interests to go to trial.
“I think they understood what their options were,” she said. “I tried to make it very clear.”
Legal interpreters familiar with the profession said that Professor Camayd-Freixas’ essay, while a notable departure from the norm, did not violate professional standards.
Isabel Framer, a certified legal interpreter from Ohio who is chairwoman of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, said Professor Camayd-Freixas did not go public while the cases were still in court or reveal information that could not be discerned from the record. Ms. Framer said she was speaking for herself because her organization had not taken an official position on the essay.
“Interpreters, just like judges and attorneys, have an obligation to maintain the confidentiality of the process,” she said. “But they don’t check their ethical standards at the door.”
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
also in this e-mail:
(1) New Haven ID Cards Withstand Legal Challenge
(2) Bus, train passengers: Border Patrol racial profiling at times
(3) Nurse Claims Employer Enslaved Her
(4) --The Young Victims of Iowa ICE Raids
New America Media, News Report , Marcelo BallvC3, Posted: Jul 10, 2008
=0 A(5) Postville plant supervisors held without bail
(6) 20You Tube - Postville Immigrants Seek Refuge At St. Bridget's
Postville Immigrants Seek Refuge At St. Bridget's
(7) Video - Voices from a Raid | American News Project
Below is a link to a video posted about the raid in Annapolis.
(8) Al-Arian In Deportation Hold After Release for ContemptBy JOSH GERSTEIN, Staff Reporter of the Sun | July 10, 2008
(9) UFW - Another farm worker just died from heat stroke. E-mail Gov. Schwarzenegger today!
New Haven ID Cards Withstand L egal Challenge
0AThe city of New Haven, Connecticut, won a victory yesterday when the state's Freedom of Information Commission ruled the city does not have to release the names of the 5,000-plus residents who have received municipal ID cards, including many undocumented immigrants. The city claimed ther e were credible threats against card holders from anti-immigrant groups and individuals that could result in violence if the information were released. A local newspaper editor and a leader of an anti-immigrant group filed complaints when the city refused to release the information. Melinda Tuhus reports from the Commission meeting in Hartford.
Bus, train passengers: Border Patrol racial profiling at times=2 0
Border patrol agents upstate are increasingly arresting New York City undocumented immigrants aboard Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses, raising questions that the government sometimes resorts to racial profiling, immigration advocates and attorneys said.
The arrests have been an authorized practice for decades but seem to have hit a fevered pitch recently, according to advocates.
The patrols have sparked protests in the city as well as upstate, most recently last weekend in Syracuse, where a group said that agents have even targeted U.S. citizens who look "foreign". Immigration attorneys say witnesses have said that agents sometimes question only people of color.
"We are a nation of law, but is their enforcement money better spent going after criminals and youth gangs?" asked the Rev. Brian Jordan, of the Franciscan Immigration Center in Manhattan, who has counseled one Irish and 12 Mexican and Central American undocumented immigrants who were taken off Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains in the past year.Word of the patrols has broken out in some immigrant communities, and people who have overstayed visas or who never had one are staying off trains.
"Certainly it sent shockwaves through the Irish community," said a Manhattan Irish pub owner, whose bartender was recently deported after Border Patrol agents found him on a bus without identification. "You're not safe anywhere."
The Border Patrol has beefed up its efforts, which include train and bus checks, through a post- 9/11 infusion of antiterrorism funding. Agency officials said they do not know how many immigrants it has detained through the patrols, but considers the policy a vital enforcement tool.
The Border Patrol also denied accounts of profiling. An official said the agency is following a federal law that allows agents to make warrantless stops within a reasonable distance from the country's borders, about 100 miles. The practice helps to catch criminals, contraband and people crossing the Canadian border illegally. It also allows agents to arrest undocumented immigrants traveling from state to state, authorities said.
"A bus pulls in, you talk to everyone," said Border Patrol Operations Officer Mark Henry, whose sector covers five upstate counties.
The patrols have captured the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is counseling immigrant groups on their rights and is monitoring the patrols for instances of profiling.
"In terms of the legality, it may be legal for border patrol to go onto a train," said Judy Rabinovitz from the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.
"What's not legal is just to stop and question people just because they look foreign."
Some observers, however, do not think enforcement efforts have gone far enough.
Michael Cutler, a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies, said allowing=2 0undocumented immigrants to stay in the country opens them up to exploitation. He added that finding undocumented immigrants is a national-security imperative, since such nets could enmesh potential terrorists.
"How can we be safe when we have millions of people in our country andwe don't know their identification or anything about them?" Cutler said.
A city immigration group, Families for Freedom, plans to ramp up a campaign against the searches and has already targeted Amtrak and Greyhound, saying the companies should warn customers about potential immigration checks.
Amtrak said the company has put signs advising of the checks in upstate stations and makes announcements about the policy inside Penn Station. The company is also continuing a post-Sept. 11 policy that asks passengers to carry proper identification.
A Greyhound spokesman said the company is not obligated to tell customers of the inspections and that it cooperates with law enforcement.
One Prospect Heights resident may soon get on a plane to Mexico, wondering if he'll ever see his wife of 22 years again. The man, 39, was expected this week to agree to voluntary deportation, a fate sealed when he was caught on an Amtrak train in Delaware two years ago without proper identification. The undocumented immigra nt, who crossed the Mexican border 13 years ago with his wife and has worked in the bar and restaurant industry since, said agents were only asking Hispanics for identification.
"I'm not committing any crimes and I'm paying my taxes," said the man who asked not to be identified. "I dreamed of one day getting my papers."
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Nurse Claims Employer Enslaved HerA Filipino woman has accused a former Filipino ambassador to the United Nations of enslaving her for three months in the ambassadorial townhouse on the Upper East Side, forcing her to work as a servant and subjecting her to psychological abuse.The woman, Marichu Suarez Baoanan, 39, said the diplomat, Lauro Baja Jr., and his wife lured her to the United States with the promise that they would help her find work as a nurse. She gave them $5,000 to pay for a visa, airfare and help in finding nursing work, she said.But on her arrival in January 2006, Ms. Baoanan alleges, the Bajas said that she owed them another $5,000 and would have to work in their home to pay off the debt. Ms. Baoan an said the Bajas confiscated her passport, forced her to work more than 120 hours per week, prevented her from leaving the house alone and paid her only $100 per month. She was the only domestic employee in a four-story house, she said at a news conference on Wednesday to publicize a civil lawsuit filed against the Bajas lat e last month in the United States District Court in New York.“They paid me with curses, insults, disrespect,” Ms. Baoanan said, choking back tears. “They didn’t treat me like a person.” After three months, she said, she fled the house with the help of someone she described only as “a good Samaritan.”Salvador Tuy, a New York lawyer for the Bajas, accused Ms. Baoanan of using the case to secure a visa that would allow her to remain in the United States.“I feel sorry that she has to go to this expense just to get a visa,” Mr. Tuy said in an interview on Wednesday.Mr. Tuy said a contract, filed with both the Filipino and American governments in Manila, states that the Bajas were employing Ms. Baoanan as a domestic worker in their household and that she was paid $1,000 amonth, all but $100 of which was sent to her family in the Philippines.Ms. Baoanan’s lawyers said she has received a so-called T visa, given to victims of human20trafficking, and her husband and three children have also received temporary American visas and have been reunited with her in New York. Ms. Baoanan, who graduated with a nursing degree from a school in the Philippines, will be able to apply for a green card when her visa expires in four years, her lawyers said.Ms. Baoanan, who has been living in New York since leaving the Bajas’ employ in 2006, said she took two years to file the lawsuit because she first needed to “secure the safety” of her family and allow a criminal investigation to unfold. That investigation has been closed without any charges filed, Ms. Baoanan’s lawyers said.
According to 2006 census data, more than 2.9 million people in the United States consider=2 0themselves of Filipino origin; nearly 1.6 million were born abroad.
Filipinos have especially flooded domestic service jobs as well as the nursing field, where they have helped to relieve the shortage of registered nurses. Filipino nurses are now the single largest group of foreign-educated nurses in the United States. Of the New York metropolitan area’s 215,000 Filipinos, about 3 out of 10 work as nurses or other health-care practitioners, and many of the remainder are their relatives, according to a census analysis by Susan Weber-Stoger, a demographer at Queens College.
With the demand for nurses so high, ther e has been opportunity for unscrupulousness among recruiters, employers and even nurses, said Filipino support groups, nursing advocacy associations and lawyers familiar with the nursing field.These experts say that Filipino and other foreign-educated nurses have filed a range of complaints, accusing employers of underpayment; forcing them to work longer hours than stipulated in their contracts; or not providing the kind of work they thought they had been guaranteed.At the same time, recruiting agencies say they have occasionally been victimized by unscrupulous nurses who have broken their contracts and fled soon after their arrival in the United States with plane tickets and visas paid for by the agencies.
Nursing advocates, however, say claims by Filipino nurses of mistreatment in the United States are rare, largely because the nurse recruitment system in the Philippines is tightly regulated by the Filipino government.Ms. Baoanan’s case is being used by her supporters to make larger points about the exploitation of low-wage immigrants from the Philippines and elsewhere. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a nonprofit group, is providing her with legal representation.
Ivy O. Suriyopas, a staff attorney with the Asian American Legal Defen se and Education Fund, said Ms. Baoanan’s case illustrates “a pattern of diplomats exploiting their domestic workers.”
“They’re alone in a house where, if they’re an immigrant, they may not speak the language, may not know their rights,” she said in an interview. “There are so many different ways in which they are vulnerable.”
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company