Affect of New Alabama Immigration Law on Workers' Compensation
On June 9, 2011, Governor Robert Bentley signed into law the controversial Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. This new law has left Alabama workers’ compensation laws as they apply to illegal aliens in a state of limbo. Portions of the law have been enjoined by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama and the Eleventh Circuit but the remaining sections raise some interesting issues.
Section 27 of the Act prohibits a court from enforcing a contract between a party and an illegal alien if the non-alien party has: 1) direct or constructive knowledge that the alien was unlawfully present in the USA at the time the contract is entered into; and 2) the performance of the contract requires the alien to remain unlawfully present in the USA for more than 24 hours after the time the contract was entered into or performance could not be reasonably expected to occur without remaining in the USA for over 24 hours. Alabama law has consistently held that settlement agreements are contracts and, as such, future settlement agreements between illegal workers and employers may be voided by Section 27. There is previous authority in Alabama that indicates a party should have constructive knowledge than an alien is unlawful if he invokes the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in regards to citizenship questions or admits to not having a social security number. See Cokely v. Cokely, 469 So. 2d 635 (Ala. Civ. App. 1985); Eagle Hosp. Physicians, LLC v. SRG Consulting, Inc., 561 F.3d 1298 (11 Cir. 2009). If a settlement agreement is subject to court approval and the approval will take more than 24 hours to receive, then the agreement would possibly fall under the second prong of Section 27. It is unclear if Section 27 will ultimately be applied to invalidate settlement agreements under these conditions.
Additionally Sections 5 and 6 of the Act place restrictions on officers of the court from interfering with enforcement of the Act. Due to the Act’s intended purpose of removing illegal aliens from the state, an attorney (as an officer of the court) could conceivably violate the Act by having an illegal alien appear at a deposition, trial, or mediation. Similarly, judges (as officers of the court) could violate the Act by allowing an illegal alien to pursue claims in their courts.
Although the new immigration law raises several new issues to be considered in the realm of workers’ compensation, the question of whether or not an illegal alien even has legal standing to pursue a workers’ compensation claim in Alabama remains unanswered.