BOISE, Idaho -- Faced with the costs of coping with illegal immigrants, one county is looking to the courts for help -- by filing a racketeering lawsuit against the businesses that hire these workers.
The legal theory: that a pattern of immigration violations by employers is costing Canyon County millions for law enforcement, education, and social services.
''Their presence lowers the labor wage for American citizens and removes employment opportunities," County Commissioner Robert Vasquez, who just started a bid for Congress, said of the illegal workers. ''Certainly it uses tax dollars to provide them with educational services, medical care, unemployment compensation for those that are injured on the job. They are a drain on the taxpayers of Canyon County, the state of Idaho, and the US in general."
The county's attempt to recoup its expenses would be filed under the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as the RICO Act, which has been used against targets ranging from organized crime to Internet spammers.
It would be the first time that a government has sued a business under RICO, enacted in 1970, legal specialists say.
The county signed a contract Tuesday with Chicago lawyer Howard Foster, a RICO specialist. Vasquez said the lawsuit was expected to be filed soon.
''There is no such lawsuit ever in American history," Foster said. ''I don't know if around the country other county commissioners or governments are really as interested as they should be to protect the rights of their citizens."
Idaho has 19,000 undocumented immigrants, and ranks 35th among the states, just above Rhode Island, according to estimates from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Canyon County is just southwest of Boise, against the Oregon line.
But Vasquez has developed a reputation as a staunch opponent of illegal immigration. He has tried to bill the Mexican government for the cost of dealing with illegal immigrants from that country, and he tried unsuccessfully to have Canyon County declared a disaster area for what he claims is an impending ''invasion" of illegal immigrants.
Vasquez estimates the county has spent at least $2 million on costs related to undocumented immigrants.