Former Postville interpreter makes case against Stephanie Rose as judge

Last month President Barack Obama nominated Stephanie Rose, U.S. attorney for Iowa’s northern district, for a federal judgeship in Iowa’s southern district. If confirmed, Rose would become the first woman to serve as a district judge in Iowa’s southern district. Today the Des Moines Register published an opinion piece urging U.S. senators not to “rubber-stamp” Rose’s nomination.  

Senator Tom Harkin recommended Rose for U.S. attorney in Iowa’s northern district in 2009. As is the usual practice, President Obama nominated both of Harkin’s picks for the U.S. attorney positions in Iowa. While Rose’s confirmation was pending, the New York Times reported that

some defense and immigration lawyers have said that felony identity-theft charges against the immigrants were excessively harsh, that immigration lawyers were not given adequate access to their clients, and that improper contact took place between prosecutors and one judge. They contend that possible civil rights and ethical violations by prosecutors should have been investigated.

“Does she stand by those tactics?” asked David Leopold, the president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the national immigration bar. “Would she engage again in this type of prosecution of scores of undocumented workers guilty of nothing more than civil immigration violations?”

Rose was easily confirmed with strong support from Senator Chuck Grassley as well as from Harkin.

In October 2011, Harkin included Rose on a three-person short list for a federal judgeship in the Southern District of Iowa, due to become vacant this July. When President Obama nominated Rose, he said in a statement that she had “demonstrated the talent, expertise, and fair-mindedness Americans expect and deserve from their judicial system.”

Harkin in a news release said Rose is a “superb attorney and among jurists, prosecutors and the defense bar has a reputation as an extremely fair and ethical prosecutor who possesses great legal ability, intellect, and judgment.”

Harkin said she had vigorously enforced federal law, helping to make Iowa safer, and “exhibited a strong sense of justice,” since her confirmation as U.S. Attorney.

“There is no question in my mind that Stephanie Rose would be an outstanding federal judge and if confirmed, her appointment would be an historic achievement for the State of Iowa.  I congratulate Stephanie Rose on this nomination and I urge my Senate colleagues to confirm her for this important position as quickly as possible.”

Today the Des Moines Register published an alternative viewpoint from Erik Camayd-Freixas, a professor of Hispanic Studies at Florida International University who served as a federal interpreter in the Postville prosecutions. Camayd-Freixas explained why the May 2008 raid and subsequent prosecutions “will be remembered in infamy as a stain on American justice.”

More than 300 undocumented meatpackers, mostly ethnic Mayans, were hammered with the anti-terrorism-related charge of aggravated identity theft, forced to plead guilty to felony fraud, jailed up to a year at public expense and deported without an immigration hearing. Hundreds of families were left to starve and the Postville economy was devastated. The seven-day “fast-track” proceedings, with one lawyer for every 20 defendants, were a mockery of due process, condemned nationally by the legal community and slammed at a congressional hearing. It was the only mass felony prosecution in the history of modern democracy. Judge Mark W. Bennett called it “a travesty” and “a tragedy.” Rose called it “a ton of good work.” […]

A federal judge must be held to a higher standard of fairness, impartiality and understanding of the law.

Significantly, in Flores-Figueroa v. United States (2009) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously to disallow Rose’s “good work”– the use of Postville-style identity theft charges against unknowing migrants. So much for her understanding of the law.

Furthermore, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in a related 2010 prosecution showed that Rose’s office involved Chief U.S. District Judge Linda Reade in the planning of the raid and prosecutions since October 2007, for eight months leading to the May 2008 operation. Once again, Rose saw nothing wrong with this, but considered it a proper role for both judge and prosecutor. So much for her ethics and impartiality.

In the various trials of Agriprocessors employees, which came before Judge Reade, it became routine for the defense to present recusal motions asking the judge to remove herself for bias. Invariably, the judge denied these motions, casting doubt on the impartiality of the proceedings and raising grounds for appeals. A future Judge Rose could face similar challenges in many cases, compromising her capacity to serve.

The fact that, to date, more than 140 of the Postville deportees and their derivatives have been granted U-visas as victims of crime and have been lawfully reunited with their loved ones in the United States is incontrovertible proof of their wrongful conviction and deportation. Hundreds more await their turn for justice.

Last May, on the third anniversary of the raid, I visited the Postville deportees in Guatemala and was profoundly shocked to see the ravages of U.S. detention and deportation. Formerly vibrant men, women and children were now a shriveled humanity, malnourished, traumatized and reduced to beggars. I will never forget.

Here is a brief summary of the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated the tactic used in many of the Postville prosecutions.

Senators never questioned Rose in detail about those prosecutions before confirming her as a U.S. attorney. Camayd-Freixas makes a strong case for greater scrutiny of her nomination for a lifetime appointment on the federal bench.

UPDATE: On March 12 Bob Quasius, leader of the Cafe Con Leche Republicans, sent Obama an open letter urging the president to withdraw Rose’s nomination. Quasius copied members of the Senate Judiciary Committee his letter, which focused on Rose’ conduct during the Postville prosecutions.

About the Author(s)