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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
"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
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
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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