Tuesday, May 25, 2010

U.S. ICE Violates State Workers Compensation Laws For Detaining Injured Illegal Workers Turned In By Insurance Companies To Avoid Payments

Photo by VIMEO: Omar Damian Ortega while detained

Turning in illegal workers to ICE for the purpose of avoiding injury compensation claims and insurance benefits is an illegal act, and violates state laws and mostly likely federal laws.

By H. Nelson Goodson
May 25, 2010

Milwaukee - State circuit courts around the country have made similar rulings and reafirmed in various injured illegal worker cases, that undocumented workers are eligible for worker compensation regardless of immigration status as state laws mandate. Several employers and insurance companies have challenged claims in court to avoid paying worker compensation benefits to illegal workers as state law requires, and have exposed the injured worker's immigration status in court proceedings. But, state's circuit court rulings have reaffirmed the injured illegal worker's right to claim compensation and insurance benefits.
Today, employers and insurance companies are trying to avoid future costly court challenges, which have been ruled in favor of the injured illegal workers. They are now resorting to turning in the injured illegal workers to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by claiming identity theft to avoid paying benefits. Turning in illegal workers to ICE for the purpose of avoiding injury compensation claims and insurance benefits is an illegal act, and violates state laws and mostly likely federal laws.
ICE by detaining and processing the injured workers is most likely violating federal laws as well, especially when they discover the actual intent of the employer and insurance companies to avoid injury compensation. The lack of federal accountability has exposed the unfair treatment of injured illegal workers to debate, public scrutiny and federal accountability.
On May 1st during an Immigration Reform rally at Mitchell Park sponsored by Voces de la Frontera (VDLF) in Milwaukee, Omar Damian Ortega made his case public. In 2009, Ortega injured his back at work. He had worked for 9 years as a welder and had wages taken out for short and long term insurance. Ortega then filed a worker’s compensation claim, which Wisconsin State Law says are due to all injured workers, regardless of worker’s immigration status, according VDLF. Upon doing so, West Bend Mutual Insurance notified the Grafton Police Department of a potential case of identity theft.
Ortega, the father of 3 children, was then arrested by the Grafton Police Department and subsequently placed into immigration deportation proceedings after spending five months in jail.
Ortega, who completed his five-month sentence in jail, is still fighting to stop his deportation. Since his release, VDLF has learned that West Bend Mutual Insurance company has a mandatory policy to report undocumented workers to the police, so they can avoid paying workers the thousands of dollars in claims they are entitle too.
West Bend Mutual Insurance would not comment on the pending case and ICE has not made it public, if it will continue to detain injured illegal workers to help out employers and insurance companies from paying injury worker compensation and insurance benefits as state and federal laws mandate.
Last April, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) reported that employers were exploiting the immigration status of injured workers to avoid accountability for work place injuries. NELP is pushing for the federal government to prohibit ICE intervention when illegal workers seek injury compensation claims.
The project cited three instances where employers and insurance companies had tried to use the immigration status of an injured illegal worker to avoid paying compensation. NELP stated in a press release, "employers have challenged benefits claims in court by revealing a worker's status in an effort to nullify any responsibility for the injuries, eventhough worker's compensation laws explicitly permit workers to file claims regardless of citizenship."
In April, the Washington State Supreme Court decided that a construction worker, Alex Salas, who suffered severe injuries when he fell 20 feet from a wet scaffolding, had a right to recover lost wages in court. After years of legal challenges, the Court ruled that allowing evidence of the worker's immigration status was unfairly prejudicial to his case, and "an abuse of discretion" by the lower court.
In October 2003, Jorge Rodriguez severely hurt his back, chest, rib, and head when he fell while working as a welder for Bollinger, a Louisiana shipyard. His employer exploited Rodriguez' status and tried to deny any responsibility based on his immigration status, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a forceful ruling in April, that all workers are protected and eligible for benefits when injured on the job.
The illegal status of injured workers does not automatically disqualify them from filing claims and recovery compensation for work-place injuries, the NELP reported.

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