Bleeding Heartland Year in Review: Iowa politics in 2008

Last year at this time I was scrambling to make as many phone calls and knock on as many doors as I could before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

This week I had a little more time to reflect on the year that just ended.

After the jump I’ve linked to Bleeding Heartland highlights in 2008. Most of the links relate to Iowa politics, but some also covered issues or strategy of national importance.

I only linked to a few posts about the presidential race. I’ll do a review of Bleeding Heartland’s 2008 presidential election coverage later this month.

You can use the search engine on the left side of the screen to look for past Bleeding Heartland diaries about any person or issue.

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Iowa Labor Commissioner fines Agriprocessors $10 million

The Des Moines Register has the news about the Iowa Labor Commissioner’s civil fine against Agriprocessors, which operates a meat-packing plant in Postville:

The fines and violations include:

• $339,700 for illegally deducting “sales tax/miscellaneous” costs 3,397 times. The state said that 1,073 Agriprocessors employees were affected by the unauthorized deductions reducing their pay by $72,189.09.

• $9,643,600 for illegally deducting a charge for frocks. State officials said this deduction occurred in 96,436 separate incidences. State officials said that 2,001 workers had their wages illegally reduced by $192,597.

• $4,900 for failing to pay 42 workers their last paychecks on May 16 and May 23 following the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in early May. In addition, seven workers were shorted two paychecks because of the overlapping nature of pay periods, the state said.

The fines total $9.98 million.

Officials also said Agriprocessors owes $264,786.45 in back wages to workers.

Agriprocessors may face other criminal or civil penalties in connection with various investigations related to the May 12 raid of the Postville plant. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has already filed criminal charges against Agriprocessors for alleged violations of child labor laws.

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Cost of Postville raid: $5.2 million and rising

Congressman Bruce Braley has been trying for months to find out how much the May 12 immigration raid in Postville cost the government. Today his office released this statement:

Braley Gets Answers from ICE on Cost of Postville Raid, Receives Full Accounting of Initial Costs

Washington,  DC -In response to his formal request, Rep. Bruce Braley (D, Iowa) received a full accounting of the initial costs incurred by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during the May 12, 2008 raid at the Agriprocessors Plant in Postville, Iowa.  Braley has sent repeated letters to ICE requesting a full accounting of the costs to taxpayers associated with the raid at the Agriprocessors plant in  Postville , Iowa .

“It’s important that my constituents in  Iowa and all  U.S. taxpayers know how their tax dollars are being spent,” Braley said.  “I’m glad that ICE has begun to share information with taxpayers, so they can see for themselves how their tax dollars are being used to enforce our immigration laws.  I’ll continue pushing to ensure that taxpayers know how every dollar is being spent.”

The costs associated with ICE’s initial enforcement action are below.  The official document from ICE is attached to this message.

I’m not able to get that chart properly formatted, but here’s how the costs of “Operation Cedar Valley Junction” break down.

The Office of Investigation costs (which relate to the initial enforcement action) are $2,803,265. Line items:

$1,578,004 for Temporary Duty Assignment Cost for 750 ICE Office of Investigations Personnel

$60,117 for Transportation of Equipment, etc.

$268,483 for Lease of Cattle Congress Facility and Modspace Trailers

$744,747 for Leased Services (Security Work Authorization with Federal Protective Service, electrician)

$65,389 for Supplies (electrical, office, operational, ID, custody)

$74,481 for Misc. Equipment (computer switch)

$12,044 Document Exploitation (DocEx), Under Cover

The Office of Detention and Removal Costs so far have been $2,441,642. Line items:

$495,697 for Temporary Duty Assignment Cost for 281 ICE Detention and Removal Personnel

$1,905,750 for Leased Services, KBR (formerly Kellogg Brown & Root), shower trailers, latrines, detainment at Cattle Congress, processing, physical security, detainee meals

$40,195 for Supplies (cuffs / custody, property)

The official document from Immigration and Customs Enforcement concludes:

These are the known Office of Investigations costs as of October 1, 2008.  This investigation is still ongoing and incurring additional expenses.

These are the known Office of Detention and Removal costs as of October 6, 2008.  This investigation is still ongoing and incurring additional expenses.

The Des Moines Register noted that the $5.2 million figure does not include costs incurred to the U.S. Department of Labor or the U.S. attorney’s office in Cedar Rapids. The Register report included this as well:

Scott Frotman, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers, a union that has attempted to organize Agriprocessors’ workers, was critical of the Postville raid. He said it covers up the fact that the Bush administration has done nothing to fix what he called a broken immigration system.

“The Agriprocessors’ raid cost taxpayers millions of dollars, it raised serious due process issues, and it may have compromised federal investigations into labor abuses by the company’s management,” Frotman said.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, disagreed. He said immigration laws must be enforced, regardless of the expense to taxpayers.

“If we start saying, ‘Well, it costs too much money to enforce the law,’ then we will see more and more of these radical, pro-illegal immigration activists drive more wedges between us and make it harder to enforce the law,” King said.

I see no evidence that large-scale raids such as that in Postville or earlier at the Swift plant in Marshalltown do anything to reduce illegal immigration. But I’m not surprised that King is for heavy-handed actions that punish immigrants without changing much about corporate hiring practices.

Meanwhile, Lynda Waddington just wrote this piece for Iowa Independent about how the raid adversely affected life in Postville.

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Attorney General files child labor charges against Agriprocessors

The Iowa Attorney General’s office on Tuesday charged the Agriprocessors meat-packing facility with more than 9,000 child labor law violations involving 32 minors. The owner and four Agriprocessors employees were named in the charges. A spokesman for the company said the children had lied about their ages, so the company was not at fault.

The Des Moines Register quoted Attorney General Tom Miller as saying the action will not force the closure of the Postville plant. However, I wouldn’t be too sure of that if the Orthodox Union follows through on its warning to withdraw its kosher supervision from Agriprocessors unless new management is installed at the company and at the Postville plant.

I can’t overstate the importance of the Orthodox Union’s kosher certification to Agriprocessors’ business. The overwhelming majority of its customers would refuse to buy any meat lacking the “U” symbol from the Orthodox Union.

Incidentally, Congressman Bruce Braley issued a statement praising Miller’s office for prosecuting alleged child labor offenses.

Congressman Tom Latham (whose district includes Postville) released no statement, in keeping with his pattern of saying little about Agriprocessors since a federal immigration raid turned the spotlight on the company in May.

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