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City uses RICO Act to sue business that hires immigrant workers

by Jose Bustamente Thursday, Jul. 21, 2005 at 11:56 PM

City uses RICO Act to sue business that hires immigrant workers

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Faced with the costs of coping with illegal

immigrants, one county is looking to the courts for help - by filing a

racketeering lawsuit against the businesses that hire these workers.

The legal theory: that a pattern of immigration violations by

employers is costing Canyon County millions for law enforcement,

education and social services.

"Their presence lowers the labor wage for American citizens and

removes employment opportunities," county Commissioner Robert Vasquez,

an ambitious politician who just started a bid for Congress, said of

the illegal workers. "Certainly it uses tax dollars to provide them

with educational services, medical care, unemployment compensation for

those that are injured on the job. They are a drain on the taxpayers

of Canyon County, the state of Idaho and the U.S. in general."

The county's attempt to recoup its expenses would be filed under the

federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act,

commonly called the RICO Act, which has been used against targets

ranging from organized crime to Internet spammers.

It would be the first time that a government has sued a business under

RICO, enacted in 1970, legal experts say.

The county signed a contract Tuesday with a RICO specialist, Chicago

attorney Howard Foster, and Vasquez said the lawsuit was expected to

be filed soon.

"There is no such lawsuit ever in American history," Foster said. "I

don't know if around the country other county commissioners or

governments are really as interested as they should be to protect the

rights of their citizens."

Idaho may seem a strange stage for an immigration test case. The state

has just 19,000 illegal aliens, and ranks 35th among the states, just

above Rhode Island, according to estimates from the U.S. Citizenship

and Immigration Services. Canyon County is just southwest of Boise,

against the Oregon line.

But Vasquez has developed a reputation as a staunch opponent of

illegal immigration. He has tried to bill the Mexican government for

the cost of dealing with illegal immigrants from that country, and he

tried unsuccessfully to have Canyon County declared a disaster area

for what he claims is an impending "invasion" of illegal immigrants.

Carl Rusnok, a Dallas-based regional spokesman for U.S. Immigration

and Customs Enforcement, said he didn't have any specific comments on

Canyon County's case.

Vasquez won't say which businesses will be sued until the actual

lawsuit is filed. He estimates the county has spent at least

million on costs related to illegal aliens.

Employers say the lawsuit could spell the end of many labor-intensive

businesses that rely on immigrant labor, or at least drive up the

cost, said Ann Bates, executive director of the Idaho Nursery and

Landscape Association.

"We do our best to be sure that they are legal, but the laws restrict

you as to what you can ask," Bates said. "We hope that someday

somebody really understands that if we lose our labor force, they

lose."

If Canyon County succeeds, the case could create a legal structure for

other governments concerned about undocumented workers.

"Right now people say there's no money in enforcing the law, but now

there might be for attorneys and trial lawyers. It could create a

vested interest in enforcement," said Steven Camarota, director of

research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C,

which supports immigration restrictions.

The RICO Act does offer a tempting prize, since winners can be awarded

triple damages.

On the surface, Canyon County seems to have a solid case, said G.

Robert Blakey, one of the authors of the RICO Act and a law professor

at the University of Notre Dame.

"If people are knowingly bringing in and exploiting undocumented

immigrants, they are creating a federal crime," Blakey said. "What

this suit raises is just whether the government units - federal, state

and local - can sue for the damages they suffer."

However, Blakey notes that some federal courts have already ruled that

governments can't try to recover the cost of being a government.

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There's already a law johnk Friday, Jul. 22, 2005 at 4:06 PM

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