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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

Judge Says State Immigration Law is Unconstitutional

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
By Bruce Buchanan, Siskind Susser


Photo of Nashville, Tennessee

What started as a workers’ compensation case has resulted in an interesting decision from a chancery court judge in Nashville, Tennessee -- simultaneously revealing employer immigration violations and striking down a state immigration law.

Carlos Martinez, a native of Guatemala, was working in the United States earning $400 per week as an undocumented day laborer. On August 8, 2011, Mr. Martinez slipped and fell in wet grass while operating a lawn mower. The lawn mower ran over his arm and the blade severed his left elbow and forearm. More than three years after his injury, Mr. Martinez found himself in court -- up against his employer, the employer’s insurer, and the Attorney General for the State of Tennessee -- fighting his workers’ compensation claim and trying to prove that he was entitled to benefits despite his federal immigration status.

Employer Violations
Mr. Martinez worked for Commercial Services of Pegram, Tennessee, performing painting and other general labor. According to the court, Commercial Services never required Mr. Martinez to fill out an employment application or any other forms such as an I-9 form, nor asked Mr. Martinez whether he was legally eligible to work in the United States.

State Immigration Law
According to court documents, Mr. Martinez lost a “significant portion of his arm below his elbow” in the lawn mower accident in 2011, and sustained a vocational disability of 84 percent to his left arm. A Tennessee state immigration law passed in 2009, “capped” Mr. Martinez’s recovery at 1.5 times his medical impairment rating because he was an undocumented worker – slashing his recovery to a vocational disability of 36 percent.

The Tennessee legislature’s stated intent in passing the law was to “preserve the tradition of legal immigration while seeking to close the door to illegal workers in the State of Tennessee and to encourage the employers of Tennessee to comply with federal immigration laws in the hiring or continued employment of individuals who are not eligible or authorized to work in the United States.” Tenn. Code Ann. 50-6-241(e).

Instead, what the trial court found is the law had the opposite effect -- making it less costly for employers to hire undocumented workers from a liability perspective, and providing a potential incentive for employers to circumvent the federal law.

More importantly, the court deemed the statute unconstitutional as a “state immigration policy” preempted by federal law. The court cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 2492, 2498 (2012) in which an Arizona state law that attempted “to achieve one of the same goals as federal law – the deterrence of unlawful employment,” involved a conflict in the method of enforcement and served as “an obstacle to the regulatory system Congress chose.” Id. at 2505.

Proposed State Civil Penalties under IRCA
Another important distinction made by the trial court was that the Tennessee law imposed civil penalties on employers “to be paid directly to the State of Tennessee”. It found this provision was expressly barred by the terms of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) which preempts “any State or local law imposing civil…sanctions…upon those who employ…unauthorized aliens”. 8 U.S.C. § 1324a(h)(2).

Conclusion
The trial court struck down Tenn. Code Ann. 50-6-241(e) in its entirety, and Mr. Martinez was awarded future medicals and permanent partial disability benefits of approximately $30,000. It remains to be seen if the State of Tennessee will appeal the trial court’s decision.


Name:  siskind_susser_logo.jpg
Views: 3128
Size:  2.9 KB ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bruce Buchanan is an attorney with the law firm of Siskind Susser P.C. - www.visalaw.com - a full service U.S. immigration law firm representing employers and individuals nationwide for over 20 years. You can also follow Bruce on social media via Facebook and on Twitter @BuchananVisaLaw .

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Updated 04-09-2015 at 03:27 PM by BBuchanan

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