Justices Hear Undocumented Workers Debate

Toni Locy, AP, April 26, 2006

WASHINGTON—Lawyers for the Bush administration and a group of Georgia workers urged the Supreme Court Wednesday to allow a floor-covering manufacturer to be sued for racketeering for allegedly using recruiters to find and hire illegal workers.

In a case that raises the highly charged issue of illegal immigration, justices were asked to deal with only a small piece of the debate: whether corporations like Mohawk Industries Inc. can be sued under civil provisions of a federal law originally designed to fight organized crime.

The key question is whether a corporation that contracts out a service, such as recruiting, can be part of an illegal “enterprise” under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970.

In 1996, Congress expanded the anti-racketeering law’s reach to include violations of immigration law, such as the hiring of illegal workers.

Several justices voiced concern over whether corporations fit a confusing definition of enterprise that Congress placed in the anti-racketeering law.

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The high court’s decision could be significant because it likely would affect both criminal and civil uses of the anti-racketeering law, particularly by the Justice Department. Federal prosecutors have long used the law to seek prison terms for corrupt union officers and money damages from crooked unions and pension funds.

The Mohawk employees’ lawsuit has not gone to trial and is on hold while the company appeals a trial court judge’s refusal to dismiss the case. Mohawk denies knowing it had illegal workers on its payroll.

The Atlanta-based 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court, finding that Mohawk and the recruiters constitute an enterprise under the law.

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