Banning pay for undocumented workers is unconstitutional

Workers rights apply to everyone — legal or illegal. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

The Associated Press

April 10, 2008 Thursday 1:45 PM GMT
Tenn. AG: Pay ban for illegal immigrants is unconstitutional

SECTION: BUSINESS NEWSA legislative proposal to make it a crime for illegal immigrants to accept pay for work done in Tennessee is unconstitutional, the state’s attorney general said in a legal opinion released Wednesday. Attorney General Bob Cooper wrote in the opinion that the proposal would conflict with the Federal Labor Standards Act, which protects workers’ rights to receive minimum and overtime wages.

Federal courts have said those protections “apply regardless of immigration status and that all workers are entitled to be paid for work that they have performed,” Cooper said in the opinion.

The proposal sponsored by Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Goodlettsville, and Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, has been awaiting floor votes in both chambers of the General Assembly pending questions over whether it would be constitutional.

The bill proposed requirements for illegal immigrants caught working in the state to forfeit earnings and property, face up to six months in jail and be fined up to $500.

Cooper said the property seizure provision would violate constitutional protections for due process.

“It is conceivable that government officials might attempt to seize all real or personal property of an undocumented alien, including property that is not in any way related to that person’s compensation for illegally working in the state,” Cooper wrote.

Haynes has said he introduced the bill targeting illegal immigrants’ pay because the Legislature is prevented by federal law from enacting tougher penalties against employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Senate Democratic Caucus spokesman Mark Brown said Haynes will abandon the proposal following the attorney general’s opinion.

“We have no intention of saddling the state with costly and time-consuming litigation over this,” said Brown.

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