- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

A lawsuit filed earlier this month by nine illegal immigrant janitors against Wal-Mart is part of a larger problem in this country stemming from the hire of illegal workers by many corporations, said James Linsey, who is representing the plaintiffs.

The Wal-Mart lawsuit is part of a continuing legal assault on large employers for what critics say is lax screening of workers’ immigration status.

Illegal immigrants are becoming more willing to sue employers who count on the reluctance of such workers to complain about mistreatment.

While immigrants almost surely will be deported before the cases are settled or decided in court, a legal victory could provide them with more money than they could ever earn as laborers in the United States.

In May 2002, the families of 11 illegal immigrants who died in the Arizona desert sued the federal government, claiming that the deaths could have been prevented if a humanitarian group had been allowed to put water at key border-crossing locations.

In that case, the plaintiffs live in the interior of Mexico.

“We have a wonderful justice system in this country, the best in the world,” said James Clark, a Yuma, Ariz., lawyer representing the families in Mexico. “And it protects everybody. It is not correct, to say the least, to say that because someone is here illegally that they are not entitled to the same rights that we enjoy.”

In 1997, a Texas poultry company was forced by the Labor Department to compensate 179 workers, including some $14,000 in back pay owed to employees who had been deported by immigration officials.

A legal victory in the United States can mean relative wealth for people living in poor countries.

“What does it matter if they are here or not if they win their cases?” said Abraham Adelpe, a pastor in Dodge City, Kan., who ministers to the Hispanic community, which comprises about 50 percent of the Midwest town. “If they even see $50,000, that makes them very wealthy in Mexico. They then don’t even need to think about coming here to work again.”

Anyone in the country is entitled to due process under U.S. law, Mr. Linsey said. Otherwise, “it would in some cases legalize murder and slavery.”

The New York lawyer on Nov. 10 filed suit on behalf of his clients, who say they were cheated out of overtime wages by Wal-Mart. Monetary damages are unspecified. Wal-Mart denies the charge.

In October, federal agents arrested more than 300 illegals during a sweep of 60 Wal-Mart stores.

“We would never condone treating anyone poorly, legal or otherwise,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sharon Weber.

These cases unwittingly align restrictionist immigration groups with open-border advocates, with both agreeing that no one, illegal or not, should be subject to abuse at the hands of an employer.

“These lawsuits are a powerful tool as a disincentive for employers to hire these illegal workers,” said John Keeley, a spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates lower immigration levels. “It doesn’t matter who is making these claims. An American employer does not have the right to exploit someone just because they are not an American citizen.”


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