It is estimated that there are around 8 million unauthorized immigrant workers in the United States. Because they make up such a significant portion of the workforce, many states, including Florida, have enacted laws granting unauthorized workers the right to seek compensation for workplace injuries. However, recent additions to Florida’s workers’ comp laws have resulted in the arrest and deportation of numerous injured workers. A joint investigation by NPR and ProPublica clearly shows the situation.
Nixon Arias, a native of Honduras, lived in the United States for more than a decade and had 3 U.S.-born sons, ages 3, 7, and 8. He worked at a landscaping company for 9 years, and used the money he earned to establish his family’s home in Pensacola, Florida. However, his dreams were shattered in the span of a few seconds.
In November 2013, while he was riding a lawnmower on Highway 59 just over the Alabama state line, his lawnmower hit a hole and threw him into the air. He landed hard on his lower back, causing severe damage to 3 spinal disks. He filed a workers’ compensation claim through his employer’s insurance company and received physical therapy, pain medication, and steroid injections to help his condition. However, the pain continued.
Eventually, even walking and sitting became difficult because of the chronic pain in his back. His doctor suggested an expensive surgery to implant a device to help provide permanent pain relief. However, 6 days after he made the appointment to have the operation, the insurance company found out that he had used the Social Security number of a deceased person to file the workers’ compensation claim. The company refused to pay for his treatment.
Arias was charged with insurance fraud and using a false Social Security number to seek compensation. After spending a year and a half in jail and immigration detention, he was deported back to Honduras. His story is one of hundreds of unauthorized workers who are being deported after filing workers’ compensation claims for legitimate on-the-job injuries.
Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Laws
In 2003, Florida added a catch to the law that had previously allowed unauthorized workers to obtain compensation for workplace injuries. The catch stated that it was a crime to file a workers’ compensation claim using false identification. The law also made it illegal to use false identification to obtain employment.
This means insurance companies and employers can report workers, even if they’ve never filed for workers’ compensation. A study by the NPR and ProPublica found that, over 14 years, more than 250 unauthorized injured workers were arrested under Florida’s new law. Not only are insurance companies able to avoid paying workers’ compensation for injured workers, but they are able to get hundreds of uninjured workers arrested and deported for using fake Social Security numbers on employment records.
Florida’s law has drastic implications for unauthorized workers seeking to build a life and future in the United States. Anyone who has used false identification can be arrested, charged with insurance fraud, and deported. Furthermore, those with legitimate on-the-job injuries can be denied treatment and medical care. Some are even being arrested in slings, held in jail for extended periods of time, and then deported before getting the treatment they need. Accusations are beginning to arise, stating that Florida’s compensation law is being used to engage in immigration enforcement.
Arias’ situation is one of several where unauthorized workers are arrested, denied adequate medical treatment, held in jail, and deported for sustaining an injury at work. Furthermore, laws in other states are also cracking down on the rights of unauthorized workers to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Arias has not seen his children in more than 2 years.
Dedicated to Upholding Your Rights to Workers’ Compensation
At The Law Offices of Nathaniel F. Hansford, we take pride in helping injured workers seek compensation for their injuries. Our firm is passionate about finding effective legal solutions for clients, and we can discuss your options throughout the process. With our Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys, you can receive experienced representation for your case.
Contact our firm today for a free consultation.