This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMYGOODMAN: We turn now to Postville, Iowa, a small town of just over 2,000 people. On May 12th, the town became the site of the largest immigration raid in US history. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, arrested 389 workers at Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in the country. Nearly 300 of the workers were charged with aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud. Many were sent to prison.
Erik Camayd is a professor of modern languages at Florida International University in Miami. He was one of the twenty-six court-appointed interpreters flown into Iowa for the trial.
In an account describing his experience, he wrote: “Then began the saddest procession I have ever witnessed, which the public would never see, because cameras were not allowed past the perimeter of the compound. Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10. They appeared to be uniformly no more than 5 ft. tall, mostly illiterate Guatemalan peasants with Mayan last names, some in tears; others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment.”
This is one of the workers speaking in her own words.
ELIDA: [translated] My name is Elida, and I’m from Guatemala. I have two children. I brought here because of the situation in our town in Guatemala. We couldn’t survive, because we were poor. We came here to make a living, to work. But where we worked, they exploited us. We didn’t have any option but to accept the work, because we knew we needed the money. I think it’s very unjust, what they’re doing to us, because after they needed the work of our hands to do this labor, now they’re paying us like this. If they could only realize that all of us here are so traumatized by what happened.
AMYGOODMAN: We turn now to Professor Erik Camayd. He joins us now from Miami. We’re also joined in New York by Roberto Lovato, a writer with New America Media and frequent contributor to The Nation magazine, who writes extensively on immigration politics and immigrant rights.
Erik Camayd, describe your experience.
ERIKCAMAYD-FREIXAS: Well, it was a unique experience for me in my twenty-three years as a federal interpreter. It started with waiting around in the courtroom until they started bringing in the defendants, and they were shackled at the waist, wrists and feet and coming in in rows of ten. Then they sat down to be arraigned. And one of the first things that struck me is that there didn’t seem to be a presumption of innocence. The presumption of innocence became kind of like empty words, because they were shackled. They were on an immigration detainer, so they didn’t have any right to bail, like normally defendants would. And so, that’s how it started.
It was a very long process that lasted two weeks. And as I went along, day after day, there was a new irregularity in the process. And eventually, I guess, there was an irregularity at every step, I would say, comparing this process, these fast-tracking judicial proceedings, with the judicial proceedings that I’ve watched in federal court over twenty-three years of professional practice.
AMYGOODMAN: Can you describe for us, as you pieced it together, what actually went down in May when this raid took place, the largest immigration raid in US history?
ERIKCAMAYD-FREIXAS: Well, the plant was stormed by what is really a paramilitary force of hundreds of agents. And they brought the detainees to the National Cattle Congress that had been prepared as a detention center. The security there was high security.
And then, after the initial appearance where the detainees were arraigned, we went — the different interpreters with their attorneys went to the different jails in throughout eastern Iowa, where the arraigned detainees had been taken. And then we met with each one individually, of the ones that each attorney had assigned to, and explained the plea agreement to them and went through basically an interview, fairly in-depth, with each of the clients.
I think that it is important to mention that one of the things that struck me about these proceedings is that the different officers of the court did not witness the entire process from beginning to end. The interpreters did. We were there from before arraignment for the very brief attorney-client conferences in preparation for arraignment, through the arraignment, and then in the interviews in jail and the sentencings and in the interviews after sentencing. There were different judges doing the arraignment and the sentencing. Magistrates were doing arraignments and hearing the pleas, and then US district court judges were doing the sentencing. So there wasn’t a continuity, so that basically none of the other officers of the court were able to see the entire process the way that interpreters could.
AMYGOODMAN: Erik Camayd, can you talk about some of the people you interpreted for, to give us a thumbnail sketch of who they were, like the man who walked from Guatemala to Iowa to work?
ERIKCAMAYD-FREIXAS: Yes. That was a very striking case, because the attorney asked him, through the interpreters, how he came to the United States, what his story was, to see what actually was the background of his case. And when asked how he came to the United States, he answered, “I walked.” And we looked at each other. The attorney thought that maybe I was misinterpreting. So we asked again, “What do you mean?” And he said, “I walked for a month and ten days, until I crossed the river.” So he actually walked all the way from Guatemala, across Mexico, by himself, until he crossed the border alone, and then he gathered with other — he met other immigrants and hitchhiked rides on a truck to Dallas and then to Postville. So, we understood how desperate his family situation was.
There were many in that same predicament. They were basically begging to be deported. And, of course, what made this case unique was that, for the first time, at least in this scale, they were not being deported but actually criminally prosecuted and sent to jail for five months or more. And the fact that they did not have a right to bail and that if they wanted to plead “not guilty” they would have had to wait possibly longer, up to six or eight months in jail without bail waiting for a trial, made this situation very, very difficult to really say that there was justice done in many of these cases.
Even though I can tell you individual cases, the truth of the matter — and I will — the truth of the matter is that they were all treated exactly the same, with the same plea agreement. There was no case-by-case review, no circumstances — individual circumstances reviewed. So, basically, the innocent and the guilty were all bunched together.
AMYGOODMAN: You describe — Erik, you describe one man just weeping through it all. You say that he just said he was nobody.
ERIKCAMAYD-FREIXAS: Yes, yes. This was the first interview, and it lasted three hours. For most of those three hours, this man was just weeping, and he was weeping for his family, worried about his children. He had children back in Guatemala, his mother, his wife and his sister all depending on him. He was the sole earner for the entire family.
And one of the burdens of the interpreter is that in order to really be able to interpret accurately and convey the meaning and the spirit of the meaning that each person says, you really have to put yourself in their place. You have to become them, so to speak. And when I became this man, so I could interpret for him accurately, I was placed in the position that he was in, and I found it, quite frankly, to be an intolerable burden. Basically, I saw immediately that this man had no choice but to plead guilty, if he wanted to return to his family as soon as possible, after five months in jail and then at least another month for deportation. So, I could immediately see myself in that situation, and I realized that this man, just like many others — women, as well, parents — would be placed in jail for these five months, and every waking hour they would be consumed by the worry as to whether their family was going to make it, as to whether any of their children was going to make it that day. And on top of that, they would have to carry the burden of having failed their families.
So, to me, that situation, which was — I think could have been foreseen and should have been foreseen by authorities, because they are experienced in this, so they know, they must know, and it is their business to know, that many of these Guatemalan and Mexican people have families in their countries and children depending on them, as well as in Iowa, in the United States, in Postville, in this case, such that to place them in that position, basically holding their families’ well-being ransom over their heads in order to induce them to accept a plea agreement and plead guilty as the fastest way to get back home and then placing them in jail for that time under that kind of duress, I think that it’s very disturbing. It’s very disturbing.
AMYGOODMAN: Professor Camayd, you took the unusual step of breaking a code of confidentiality among legal interpreters. You’ve been doing this interpreting for almost a quarter of a century. You’re a professor of modern languages at Florida International University in Miami. Why did you do this?
ERIKCAMAYD-FREIXAS: Well, first of all, let me say that I’m a professor of interpreter ethics, so I knew exactly what I was doing and how and to what extent I could speak out and so forth. I do not advocate for other interpreters to do this. I think I was in a unique position, where I had the duty to do this, as a citizen and also as an interpreter.
Let me say that I did not break the code of confidentiality. The confidentiality clause in the Interpreter Code of Ethics is designed to prevent the interpreter from affecting the outcome of the case. Now, in this situation, the case was over May 23rd. The defendants had ten days in which to appeal the sentence, and I didn’t even begin writing my essay until the second week of June. So, by that time, not only was the case over and these people in jail, but also the appeal period, the ten-day period for appeal, had expired, so it was a closed case. So, at that point, the confidentiality did not apply any longer.
In addition to that, confidentiality is not absolute. There are other requirements, ethical requirements of the interpreter that override it many times. For instance, if you are a medical interpreter and you find out that a client has tuberculosis or another epidemic disease, and they tell you, “Please don’t tell anybody, because I’ll be placed in quarantine, and I won’t be able to support my family,” well, you have a duty to report it, because it’s in the public interest, and that overrides confidentiality.
In this case, there was also the —
AMYGOODMAN: We have five seconds, Professor Camayd.
ERIKCAMAYD-FREIXAS: OK. There was also the requirement for me to notify about any impediment in the legal process as an officer of the court. And that’s why I did what I did.
AMYGOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Professor Erik Camayd-Freixas. We will link to your report on what happened in Postville, Iowa.
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José Eduardo González, Associate Professor (Ph.D. New York) pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico and received his master and PhD in Comparative Literature from Binghamton University (New York). His area of specialization is Contemporary and Recent Latin American Narrative. He frequently teaches seminars on the Latin American Short Story, The Modern (Boom) Novel in Latin America and Primitivism. His research focuses on the Latin American Novel, Popular Culture, Critical Theory and Literary History.
- Co-editor with Timothy R. Robbins. New Trends in Contemporary Latin American Narrative: Post-National Literatures and the Canon. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2014.
- Co-editor with Erik Camayd-Freixas, Primitivism and Identity in Latin America. Essays on Art, Literature and Culture. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2000.
- Author, Borges and the Politics of Form. New York: Garland/Routledge, 1998.
Articles & Book Chapters
- “Of Hurricanes and Tempests: Ena Lucía Portela’s Text as a Non-Tourist Destination.” New Trends in Contemporary Latin American Narrative: Post-National Literatures and the Canon. José Eduardo González and Timothy R. Robbins, ed. (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2014)
- Co-Author (with Timothy R Robbins), “Posnacionalistas: Tradition and New Writing in Latin America.” Critical Introduction to New Trends in Contemporary Latin American Narrative: Post-National Literatures and the Canon. José Eduardo González and Timothy R. Robbins, ed. (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2014)
- “Class and Counterfeiting during the Porfiriato: Gutiérrez Nájera's The Streetcar Novel.” Trains, Culture, and Mobility: Riding the Rails. Edited by Benjamin Fraser and Steven Spalding. UK: Lexington Books, 2012.
- “Refractario al pensamiento: el hecho estético contra el Estado en Ficciones.” Jorge Luis Borges: Políticas de la literatura. Pittsburgh: IILI Ed. By Juan Pablo Dabove. (2009)
- “Boullosa y los milagros políticos.” Bulletin of Spanish Studies. 85.3 (2008): 325-334.
- “Dinero fingido: Los de abajo y la economía de la revolución.” Latin American Literary Review. 70 (2007): 57-73.
- “Modernismo y capital simbólico” Bulletin of Spanish Studies (Glasgow) 79 (2002): 211-228.
- “Los nuevos letrados: posboom y posnacionalismo,” Revista Iberoamericana. 194-95 (2001): 175-190.
- “La voz y el texto: de experiencias comunes a unidad literaria en la literatura caribeño-americana,” The Bilingual Review/La Revista Bilingüe. 25.3 (2000): 319-323. [Review-Article]
- “Dialectics of Archaism and Modernity,” Primitivism and Identity in Latin America. Essays on Art, Literature and Culture, eds. Erik Camayd-Freixas and José Eduardo González. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2000. 89-107. (Translation of “El transculturador como productor”)
- “El post-boom y la dificultad textual como ideología,” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 33 (1999): 91-114.
- “Borges and the Classical Hollywood Cinema,” Style 32.3 (1998): 489-502.
- “¿El final de la modernidad literaria?: técnica y tecnología en la crítica de Angel Rama,” MLN 113.2 (1998): 380-406.
- “El transculturador como productor: la tecnificación de lo primitivo en Transculturación narrativa en América Latina,” Nuevo Texto Crítico 8.18 (1996): 119-137.
- “Entre alegoría y realismo: el problema del estilo en Borges,” Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 20.39 (1994):141-156.
- “Borges’s The Draped Mirrors,” The Explicator. 49.3 (1994): 175-6.
- Latin American Short Story: the 21st Century
- Borges and “Borges”
- Mass Culture and Latin American Literature: textos fáciles, textos difíciles.
- Globalization and Latin American Culture
- Modern Latin American Novel, 1950-1970
- The Latin American Boom
- Caribbean Literature: Narratives of Populism, Post-Nationalism and Testimony
- Postmodernism in Recent Latin American Literature
- Primitivism in Contemporary Latin American Narrative
- Latin American Short Story: A Historical View
- Latin American Short Story: From the Boom to the Post-Boom
- History of Latin American Brief Narrative: From Colonial to the Present
- Latin American Film (U. of Nebraska)
- Introduction to Latino History and Culture (U. of Nebraska)
- Latin American Civilization (Univ. of Wisconsin; U. of Nebraska)
- Representative Authors of Spanish American Literature, Modernismo to Present (U. of Nebraska)
- Representative Authors of Spanish American Literature, Colonial literature to Nineteenth Century literature (U. of Nebraska)
- The Question of Identity in Latino Literature (Univ. of Wisconsin)
- Literature in Translation: The Mexican Revolution in Mexican and Latino Literature (Univ. of Wisconsin)
- Introduction to Spanish American Literature (Univ. of Wisconsin)
- Contemporary Literary Theory and Criticism (Univ. of Puerto Rico)
- Introduction to Comparative Literature (Univ. of Puerto Rico)
- Introduction to Western Civilization I and II (Univ. of Puerto Rico)
- Advanced Reading for Comprehension
- Advanced Composition
- Intensive Conversation
- Intermediate Spanish
- Elementary Spanish
Fellowships & Honors
- Faculty Development Fellowship, UNL. 2012.
- Faculty Development Fellowship, UNL. 2004.
- Grant-In-Aid. Research Council-UNL. 2001.
- National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute: Latin American Literatures: Self and Society. 1995.
- Clifford D. Clark Fellowship, Binghamton University. 1992-1993.
- PhD Qualifying Examinations passed with Distinction, Binghamton University. 1992.
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Associate Professor of Spanish and Ethnic Studies, 2004-present
Assistant Professor, 1998-2004
Visiting Assistant Professor, 1997-98
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Coordinator, Latino and Latin American Studies, 8/2004-5/2007
- University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish, 8/1996-5/1997
- Marquette University
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Spanish, 8/1995 to 5/1996
- University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, 8/1994 to 5/1995