A national advocacy group opposed to illegal immigration is teaming with a California attorney to target companies that hire undocumented aliens, using workers' compensation costs and other economic factors as a weapon.
The idea is to use a provision of California law under which a company that knowingly hires illegal immigrants can be sued by a competitor who has suffered economic damage as a result of those hirings.
The team of attorney David Klehm, of Orange County, Calif., and the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, plans to file a variety of lawsuits on behalf of small and midsize businesses, seeking restitution, damages and market protections from companies that hire illegals.
The first legal action will likely be filed in Fresno, Calif., against a company or companies in the building trades.
"Honest business owners and hard-working Americans are the forgotten victims of unenforced laws against illegal immigration," said Klehm, who created a Web site to bring attention to the issue. He said legal businesses face unfair competition from companies that hire illegal immigrants at low wages, pay no benefits "and who often get away without contributing to the workers' compensation fund."
Legal businesses "should not be forced into bankruptcy by those who don't obey the law," Klehm said.
Mike Hethmon, general counsel for the IRLI, said the organization's decision to work with Klehm "reflects our position that illegal aliens should not be allowed to make claims for workers' compensation benefits."
Hethmon said removal of economic incentives to hire illegal immigrants is "a key to solving this national crisis."
The California law gives legal businesses a way to protect themselves, Hethmon said, adding that the planned lawsuits would be "the first time these state laws have been used to fight the effects of illegal immigration, but they won't be the last."
Targeting hirers of undocumented workers for legal action is not the IRLI's only weapon, Hethmon said. Noting there is a trend among state legislatures to allow illegal immigrants to apply for workers' comp benefits, Hethmon said the legal advocacy group is trying to persuade politicians to adopt a three-pronged initiative.
The first prong would be to require injured illegal workers to return to their native country, where workers' comp benefits would be paid through a U.S. consulate or a corresponding bank.
The second prong would remove tort immunity from the hiring company, opening it up to legal action for recovery of the costs of the workers' comp benefits being paid to the injured illegal workers.
The third prong would establish a "bright line rule," under which any hiring company that used the government's electronic screening process to clear a new employee would be protected against legal action even if it was subsequently determined the worker was illegal.
A draft version of the model initiative has been circulated among politicians in Virginia, but as yet has not been introduced in the legislature, Hethmon said.
September 1, 2006
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