Politics driving debate over undocumented workers and comp

The ever-present immigration debate continues to spill into the workers compensation industry, with undocumented workers who are injured on the job left to consider whether to pursue medical care and benefits at the risk of arrest and deportation, experts say.

Case law and state statutes vary widely regarding what benefits may be afforded to an injured undocumented worker, and these laws “reflect the politics that are at a fever pitch right now with regards to this issue,” said Gary Wickert, partner in the Hartford, Wisconsin, office of Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer SC, a national law firm focused on workers compensation subrogation.

Since the widely publicized collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel under construction in New Orleans in late October, injured construction worker Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma is facing deportation and has already been transferred to a detention center housed within a Harrisonburg, Louisiana, prison, according to the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice, which has petitioned the government to halt his deportation.

The incident is fueling the argument of what is fair to an injured worker, why employers hire undocumented workers when it is illegal and what will stop the practice, according to experts.

While the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act made employing undocumented workers illegal, industries such as agriculture, hospitality and construction see undocumented workers as a large part of the workforce, said Frank Pennachio, principal at St. Petersburg, Florida-based Oceanus Partners, an insurance consulting firm.

This article was first published by Business Insurance.

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