By Glenn Leach
CLINTON — Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas, an interpreter who translated at federal hearings in Waterloo after a 2008 immigration raid in Postville, spoke last week at the Canticle, home of the Clinton Franciscans.
His presentation, “Immigrant Rights and American Values,” focused on his reaction to the hearings and subsequent research that led to opinions he has expressed before Congress and in essays.
He translated for 94 Guatemalans, most of whom did not know what was happening to them, he believes.
The raid cost more than $6 million. Subsequent detention added another $5 million, with court costs adding another $4 million, he said. After interviewing production managers at the plant, he estimated losses to farmers and businesses at $250 million in the first year.
Charges of identity theft against the immigrants made no sense, he said, and the Supreme Court concurred.
Camayd-Freixas pointed out that in 2008 more than 378,000 immigrants were in detention, most for undocumented entry, a civil violation. Of those, 7,200 were unaccompanied children. Detention costs averaged $141 per day per detainee, according to his figures.
Much of his presentation dealt with violations of the U.S. Constitution related to the Postville raid and the treatment of 56 women held for future proceedings.
The women were tagged with GPS devices that monitored their whereabouts. They could neither work nor return home. They and their children had to rely on help from St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, other organizations in the community and donations from across the country.
He pointed out that the people caught up in the raid had come to this country because they are incredibly poor and have no work. They were looking for work and the United States has a labor shortage for large segments of industry, particularly in agriculture, he observed.
He referred to the situation in Immokalee, Fla., where much of the U.S. tomato crop comes from. Conditions there are so bad for immigrant workers that Florida Gulf Coast University has opened a contemporary slavery museum to illustrate some of the typical conditions workers suffer. Field hands earn about $11,000 per year, for 10-hour days.
He urged the audience to study the history of the U.S. involvement in Guatemala from the time the claims of the U.S.-owned United Fruit Company were protected by the U.S. Army, to the effects of trade agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA on farmers in other countries.