The cattle call began a little after 8:30 a.m. Wednesday for the unfortunates arrested in the MCSO's Sportex Apparel raid in Tempe the first week of February.
See also: -Bill Montgomery Is No Immigration Moderate -Bill Montgomery Fails to Convict an Innocent Man -S.A.N.E. Immigration Initiative Undercut by Bill Montgomery's Nativist Panderings -Bill Montgomery's Smoking Gun: ICE PowerPoint Shows Monty's Minions How to Deport More Immigrants
Twenty-three of them were seated in a sort-of fish bowl for humans to the right of the judge. Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, grandmothers, and grandfathers all listened quietly to the translator as she told them in Spanish what Commissioner Rees was saying in English.
He advised them of their rights, and that he would be entering not guilty pleas for all of them as they came before him, one by one, in rapid succession, each charged with multiple counts of forgery and taking the identity of another.
In an obnoxious twist of American jurisprudence, these men and women are presumed guilty due to a cruel and ingenious policy created by now disgraced and disbarred former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and carried on by his successor, current County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
Because these people are presumed guilty and because they are presumed to be in the United States illegally and because they are presumed to have used fictitious Social Security numbers, or the SSN's of the dead or the living in order to work long hours at low pay, they are over-charged by Montgomery's prosecutors, hit with counts that will make them nonbondable in Maricopa County, on par with murderers, rapists, and child molesters.
By comparison, even admitted killer Jodi Arias was granted bond, albeit one set prohibitively high: $2 million.
And in contrast to the Sportex employees, Arias is presumed innocent until proven guilty, at least technically.
On the other hand, the men and women nabbed for working sans authorization at Sportex cannot be granted bond under the dictates of Arizona's Prop 100, and Montgomery's sadistic, anti-immigrant policies.
Unlike the thousands of privileged college kids caught using a fake or "borrowed" ID, who normally are not even cited, but often merely have their bogus driver's licenses confiscated by a club bouncer, the undocumented workers are hit with the highest felony counts possible.
And they receive multiple counts, sometimes just because a fake SSN was scribbled onto more than one document in the accused's employment file. Whereas the college kid, at most, might be cited for a misdemeanor.
The injustice of Montgomery's practice, one the county attorney could easily alter by charging these men and women with lesser counts, or not at all (like their employers who escape law enforcement scrutiny, natch) is written all over the faces of these defendants, faces filled with meekness, stoicism, and premature aging, brought on by years if not decades of manual labor.
The women in particular appear haggard and beaten down, with gray or graying hair, robbed of all dignity in shackles and jailhouse stripes. Hard work , poverty and the rigors of child-rearing have added a decade or more to their looks. And all they ask is the freedom to work a few more decades until death.
This assembly-line justice reminds me of the grueling, daily Kafka-esque treatment of the undocumented in Operation Streamline, a similarly ugly legal practice on the federal level, which I have written about at length.
Indeed, Montgomery and the Obama administration have much in common when it comes to immigration. Both publicly support comprehensive immigration reform, while pursuing policies that separate families, and render removable, aliens who for all intents and purposes, are not criminals.
For instance, Montgomery, a Republican, has espoused support for the so-called SANE immigration proposal, a watered down version of comprehensive immigration reform that has been endorsed by a panoply of progressive groups locally.
A key component of SANE is allowing the undocumented to apply for "temporary legal residency," wherein the applicant will "pay a processing fee and undergo a background check."
"Those with felony convictions," it states, "(other than individual identity violations) will be deported." (Italics added.)
Thus, Montgomery agrees to an exception for the very individuals he currently is prosecuting. These are people Montgomery chooses to prosecute in such a way that they remain in Arpaio's jails indefinitely, coercing them to plead guilty to crimes that make them deportable from the United States.
Despite Montgomery's claims to be opposed to the Obama administration's policies toward the undocumented, they are in fact partners.
As I've already exposed, in early 2012, attorneys from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement instructed MCAO attorneys on how to prosecute undocumented workers, so as to secure their removal.
I also published a PowerPoint used by ICE in the seminar, which was held on county property. That PowerPoint now serves as a blueprint for deportation, one used by MCAO prosecutors.
But back to the hearing, where the former Sportex workers were treated worse than the most heinous criminals.
The large courtroom was packed with their family members and with activists from the Phoenix civil rights group Puente, who were present to witness the proceedings and to protest them with a march from the courthouse to Montgomery's offices at Third Avenue and Jefferson Street.
That march was led by nine year-old Sara Blanco and her elder sisters Andrea, 11, and Diana, 17.
Their mother, grandmother and grandfather worked at Sportex and were arrested by sheriff's deputies during the February 8 raid. All three are being held nonbondable in county jail, charged with multiple counts of forgery and ID theft.
One reporter asked Sara what she would say to Arpaio, if she had the chance.
"[I would ask if] he can leave people [alone]," the Fourth-Grader said as she sniffed and cried. "And help people be more together. He says that he doesn't want to separate families, but he just did."
Arpaio separated them, and Montgomery keeps them separated, a fact not lost on Sara's sisters.
Diana, who is deaf, spoke to the media using sign language as interpreted by Andrea.
"I don't want [my mother] to be deported to Mexico," Diana signed, weeping. "I don't want her to spend a year in jail. I miss my mom and I need her a lot. We want to tell the one that's putting the charges [on her] to please stop."
Around thirty Puente activists, family members of Sportex workers and supporters participated in the demonstration. Some carried signs bearing an image of Montgomery with the words, "Drop all charges...Hard work is not a crime!"
Julia Ojeda's husband Miguel Venegas is one of those captured in the Sportex raid. Fighting back tears, she explained that her husband had worked for Sportex for 18 years.
Together they have three U.S. citizen children, who do not know when their father will come home, as he, too, is held nonbondable, charged by Montgomery's office with multiple class four felonies.
"They're arresting people [who] all they do is work hard," she said through an interpreter.
Ojeda's children don't understand why their father is in jail. He was the family's sole breadwinner. Now she is trying to get some work to help her family survive.
Puente organizer Carlos Garcia said his group will continue to pressure Montgomery to end his sinister partnership with Arpaio.
"What we're fighting for," he told me, "is for these charges to be dropped, and for ICE not to take these people."
Montgomery's big canard, one he repeats ad nauseam to the media and to his pro-immigration colleagues who are part of SANE, is that he is simply enforcing the law, and that his hands are tied.
This is simply not true. Montgomery has something called "prosecutorial discretion." His office decides what charges to pursue, or whether they are pursued at all, which is why the underage ASU college kid using a fake ID to drink is not prosecuted for forgery and ID theft, as are the undocumented workers.
Furthermore, the MCAO offers plea deals to countless defendants every day. If Montgomery did not have the power to decide which charges to prosecute, his office could not offer these plea deals.
In fact, the MCAO at one time offered plea deals to undocumented workers, allowing them the opportunity to plead guilty to lesser offenses that would not have adverse immigration consequences for them.
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But, according to numerous immigration attorneys locally, this practice has largely ceased, and Monty's prosecutors are demanding that these defendants "plead to the lead."
All of the individuals and groups that have signed on to the SANE immigration reform plan should ask themselves how they can parley with a man who is tied at the hip to Joe Arpaio and who separates immigrant families and treats ordinary workers as if they are vicious murderers.
Nothing has changed. And as long as Montgomery persecutes the very people SANE supposedly would help, SANE is a meaningless document, not worth the website it's published on.