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One Standard Of Justice?

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A front-page story in The New York Timesof July 10 reported that federal immigration authorities in the Obama administration have adopted a “new strategy” to replace the military-style raids that were conducted in the Bush years to find and arrest illegal aliens.

One such raid, carried out in May 2008, destroyed Agriprocessors, the country’s largest kosher meat-packing plant, and resulted in criminal charges that culminated in a 27-year sentence for Sholom Rubashkin, the principal manager of the Postville, Iowa, plant. The Rubashkin raid netted 389 Hispanics who had gotten their jobs with false documentation. They were arrested, quickly prosecuted, and then deported.

According to the Times, the “quieter enforcement strategy” is to have federal agents “scour companies’ records for illegal immigrant workers” and then tell the employers to fire those who are not properly documented. Three days before the 2008 Agriprocessors raid, a lawyer hired by Rubashkin asked in writing that the local prosecutors and immigration authorities do precisely what is now the “new strategy.” The request was immediately rejected, and the rejection was even acknowledged by a local immigration official in testimony during Rubashkin’s recent federal trial.

Apart from not being raided, have the employers of illegal aliens been treated by federal law-enforcement authorities differently from how Rubashkin was treated? The Times reports that a family-owned fruit-grower company in the State of Washington named Gebbers Farms was found in December 2009 to be employing more than 500 illegal Mexican aliens. Gebbers fired these employees just before Christmas.

Advertisement The federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Sholom Rubashkin for allegedly knowingly harboring aliens. In the seven months since the Gebbers “audit,” no criminal charges have been filed against any member of the Gebbers family.

The federal prosecutors promptly added to the immigration charges they filed against Rubashkin the claim that he committed bank fraud because the loan agreement he signed with the bank that advanced a line of credit to Agriprocessors represented that he was “in compliance with the law.”

The prosecutors alleged that since he knew that illegal aliens were employed, this representation amounted to bank fraud. (As a result, the prosecutors were permitted to introduce evidence of immigration violations in a trial that was supposed to be limited to bank fraud charges.)

If the United States Attorney for Washington treats the Gebbers the same way Rubashkin was treated, one or more members of the Gebbers family should be arrested and charged not only with immigration violations but, if the Gebbers had any bank loan, with bank fraud as well. The representation that the borrowing company is complying with the law is standard “boilerplate” language in bank-loan documents. The Gebbers’ loan papers should be scrutinized to see if they contain a similar representation.

And, of course, if the Gebbers are treated on a par with Rubashkin, one or more members of the family should be released before trial on any criminal charges that may be filed only if they post a one-million-dollar bond and have their freedom to travel limited by an electronic ankle bracelet. If they plead guilty or a jury returns a guilty verdict, they should be immediately imprisoned, as Rubashkin was.

Any potential federal indictments against the Gebbers should, like Rubashkin’s, allege that a separate federal crime was committed with each illegal alien and with each draw on a line of credit. If the Gebbers are treated as Rubashkin was treated, their indictment will easily exceed the 163 counts in Rubashkin’s indictment.

If a member of the Gebbers family is found guilty of the federal charges, will the federal prosecutor for Washington demand that he or she receive a 25-year prison sentence? Will the sentencing judge add several years to the prosecutor’s recommendation, as Judge Linda Reade of the federal court in Iowa did in Rubashkin’s case?

Other recent illegal-immigration cases, some described in the Timesarticle, are worth comparing with Rubashkin’s. Several restaurant owners who paid their employees in cash and requested little or no documentation of legal status have recently pleaded guilty. George Anagnostou, the owner of two restaurants in Maryland, made a considerable profit from his restaurants, enabling him to purchase two cars, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and two homes. His illegal-alien employees were paid in cash and many worked up to 80 hours a week.

Yen Wan Cheng hired aliens from Honduras for her Maryland restaurant. She admitted in a plea agreement that she asked for no proof whatever of proper immigration status. The illegal employees lived together in a house she owned, and she drove them to work each day in a van.

Rubashkin, unlike Anagnostou and Cheng, did have a procedure in which applicants for jobs were screened to weed out illegal aliens. In fact, immigration officials acknowledged in a sworn affidavit that an undercover federal agent was rejected twice for a job at Agriprocessors because his documentation was inadequate. And all the Agriprocessors employees were paid by check, with proper deductions for taxes. Nonetheless, prosecutors threw the book at Rubashkin.

Anagnostou and Cheng have both pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in the fall. Unlike Rubashkin, they were released on bail pending their sentences. The likelihood is that neither will serve any time in prison, and if they do it will surely not exceed one year or two. And there is no indication that prosecutors have scrutinized any bank loan records of either of them to see if false representations were made.

Is this a nation of “equal justice under law”?

Nathan Lewin is a Washington attorney who is the lead appellate counsel for Sholom Rubashkin.

About the Author: Nathan Lewin, a former president of the Greater Washington Jewish Community Relations Council, has argued 28 cases in the Supreme Court of the United States and is an adjunct lecturer at Columbia Law School where he teaches “Religious Minorities in Supreme Court Litigation.”

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