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Butchering Statutes: The Postville Raid and the Misinterpretation of Federal Law

72 Pages Posted: 26 Nov 2008  

Peter R. Moyers

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: November 24, 2008


On Monday, May 12, 2008, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement led an immigration raid at the Agriprocessors, Inc. meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. The local U.S. Attorney's Office pursued criminal complaints against approximately 300 migrant workers. The raid at Postville remains the nation's largest criminal immigration raid. I aim to provide a detailed and accurate account of the investigation of Agriprocessors, the raid, the criminal prosecutions, the sentencings and the aftermath. In so doing, I argue that a confluence of factors explain the number of individuals arrested and the accelerated criminal proceedings.

I describe how the investigation of Agriprocessors led to the raid and criminal prosecutions. I show that the defendants, though not technically coerced, were the victims of systemic coercion. Such systemic coercion produced prompt resolutions of their cases, which propelled the guilty pleas and sentencings.

I then argue that the accelerated process was premised upon two flawed interpretations of federal law, without which the guilty pleas and removal orders could not have been achieved. First, the USAO employed section1028A(a)(1) of Title 18, aggravated identity theft, which imposes a two-year mandatory, consecutive sentence to any defendant convicted under it, to leverage expedited plea agreements. The interpretation is erroneous, because the statute was intended to cover only true identity thieves, not those who did not know whether the means of identification they used belonged to another actual person.

Second, I address section 1228(c)(5) of Title 8, judicial removal, which permits a federal district court to enter an order of removal against a criminal defendant as part of a plea agreement with the government. I argue that the district court improperly applied the statute, because the statute only applies to defendants who are lawfully admitted to the United States. The Agriprocessors employees were never lawfully admitted to the United States. Such orders of removal were invalid on their own terms.

I argue that these mistaken applications of federal law are prone to repetition, because the relevant players cannot be relied upon to insist on the proper application of the operative statutes. Finally, I argue rectifications of these misinterpretations are likely to diminish the feasibility of future raids followed by imprisonment.

Keywords: Immigration law, criminal law, identity theft, 1028A, judicial removal

Suggested Citation

Moyers, Peter R., Butchering Statutes: The Postville Raid and the Misinterpretation of Federal Law (November 24, 2008). Seattle University Law Review, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2008. Available at SSRN:

Peter R. Moyers (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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