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Editorials
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Friday, April 5, 2002



[ OUR OPINION ]

Court allows abuse
of immigration law


THE ISSUE

The U.S. high court has ruled that fired illegal aliens cannot collect back wages.


EMPLOYERS have been given an incentive by the U.S. Supreme Court to exploit illegal immigrants without fearing sanctions under labor law. The court ruled that undocumented aliens cannot collect back pay after being wrongfully fired. The ruling puts millions of workers, including thousands in Hawaii, at risk.

The high court issued the ruling in the case of Jose Castro, who was fired from his job in 1989 at a Los Angeles-area chemical plant for engaging in union organizing activities. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that his firing violated labor law, but it also found that Castro was a Mexican national who had used fraudulent documentation to get hired less than a year earlier.

The NLRB and lower courts ruled that Castro should be awarded back pay from the day he was fired to the day his illegal status was discovered. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, stripped him of all back pay. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that awarding back pay to illegal aliens "would encourage the successful evasion of apprehension by immigration authorities, condone prior violations of the immigration laws and encourage future violations."

However, denying such reparation could encourage employers to hire illegal aliens and then fire them with impunity when they become involved in union activities. An employer who learns of a worker's illegal status during his or her employment is more likely to keep quiet, knowing that the employee ultimately can be denied benefits under U.S. labor law.

While Rehnquist asserted that awarding any back pay would "trivialize" immigration laws, disallowing it altogether trivializes labor laws. The lower court rulings' balance, allowing limited back pay, would have maintained the integrity of both.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated the nation's illegal immigrant population in 2000 at 6.1 million but has acknowledged that it could be as high as 12 million. Hawaii was estimated to be the illegal home of 9,000 aliens, but they could number as many as triple that figure. Hawaii joined California, Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, West Virginia and Puerto Rico in a brief supporting the Bush administration's defense of the NLRB decision.

Although the ruling is a blow for undocumented workers, it may have a silver lining: It could energize a two-year-old AFL-CIO campaign to gain permanent legal status for undocumented immigrants.


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Defending the nation
includes environment


THE ISSUE

The Pentagon wants relief from laws that protect the air, water, plants and animals.


EXCUSING the military from obeying an array of laws that protect the environment is unnecessary since the secretary of defense already has the authority to exempt training grounds from compliance. The sweeping provision should be removed from the defense spending bill when Congress begins consideration of the measure later this month.

The Pentagon says that environmental protection laws interfere with the military's ability to train soldiers and develop weapons on the 25 million acres of training grounds it controls. It seeks release from the Clean Air, Clean Water, Marine Mammal Protection, Noise Control, Migratory Bird Treaty and the Endangered Species acts.

The exemption presumably would include Pohakuloa military reservation on the island of Hawaii and Oahu's Makua Valley, which, from the military's standpoint, could serve as the poster child for its argument against environmental restrictions. For three years, the Army battled community and environmental groups over live-fire training at Makua. A lawsuit settlement last year resolved the conflict with the Army being allowed to train while it conducts an environmental study, which will begin with hearings next week.

Although Makua may be viewed as the kind of barrier the exemption would eliminate, it should be regarded as the fruits of compromise and consensus. Ignoring a community's concerns would do the military no good. By the same token, civilians must recognize the need for soldiers to undergo realistic exercises.

However, the Pentagon's request appears rigged more to shield a political image than national interests. The Bush administration, keenly aware of its vulnerable record on environmental issues, would rather have the broad exemption than place Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the position of having to invoke exemptions site by site.

In arguing for the exemptions, Rep. Joel Hefley, a Colorado Republican, complained that the Navy has been severely limited in training at a California island because of the presence of the endangered loggerhead shrike. Such protections may appear trivial in comparison to military needs, but clean water and clean air are as essential to the lives of humans as they are to birds. Without the protections, the military would be free to contaminate public water supplies, as it has with tons of bullets leaching lead into ground water at a Massachusetts training facility. Nor would it have to consider noise levels or air pollutants.

The U.S. military exists to protect the nation. That includes its people, its economic interests, its natural resources and its environment.



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Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791; fbridgewater@starbulletin.com
Michael Rovner,
Assistant Editor 529-4768; mrovner@starbulletin.com
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762; lyoungoda@starbulletin.com

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4790; mpoole@starbulletin.com
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533; jflanagan@starbulletin.com

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