Injured Undocumented Workers Submit Claims at Their Own Risk
31-year-old Nixon Arias, a native of Honduras had been living in the United States for more than a year, working for a landscaping company. For the most part, he lived a peaceful life, enjoying the everyday pleasures of being a dad to three sons, ages 3, 7, and 8. But, that all changed in November 2013 when he was forced to submit a workers’ comp claim.
Arias was mowing the median of Highway 59 for the landscaper who employed him when his riding mower hit a hole and threw him into the air. He landed hard on his lower back and received injuries requiring pain medication, physical therapy and steroid injections. Arias had three herniated disks. His employer’s workers’ compensation insurance footed the bills.
Arias was in so much pain from the incident that it was tough for him to walk or sit. His doctor recommended he undergo surgery to implant a device designed to send electrical pulses to his spinal cord to relieve his pain. Unfortunately, for Arias, six days prior to the scheduled surgery, the insurance company discovered he was using a deceased man’s social security number for his claims. The state insurance fraud unit had received a tip from a private investigator hired by Arias’ employer’s insurance company.
Arias immediately hired an attorney so he could continue receiving injury benefits. According to Florida law, all employees, including illegal immigrants, are able to receive these benefits if they become injured on the job. But, this was only the beginning of Arias’ legal troubles.
He was soon pulled over after taking two of his sons to school, with his three-year-old still in the back seat. Arias was taken into custody and spent a year and a half in jail and a detention center before being deported to Honduras.
A similar incident occurred in Massachusetts earlier this year after a construction worker fractured his femur bone falling from a ladder while on the job. He was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shortly after asking his supervisor about his options to seek help for his injuries.
Flagged by private investigators hired by insurance companies, tradesman and other long-time employees of U.S. companies who are undocumented have been detained by ICE at doctor’s appointments and at depositions in cases regarding their workers’ comp claims. Many individuals are taken to detention centers while in casts, braces, or with crutches. It seems as if authorities don’t care about the extent of their injuries at all. State officials defend their positions, indicating that whether or not an undocumented worker is injured, it doesn’t change the fact that he or she is undocumented and unauthorized to work in the United States.
“We don’t have the authority or the responsibility to go out and state analyzing the intent of an insurance company or anybody else when they submit a complaint to us,” stated Simon Black, Director of the Florida insurance fraud unit responsible for having Arias flagged. “It would be unfortunate,” he added, if employers turned in their undocumented injured workers, “Just to do away with claims.” This seems to often be the case.
Unfortunately, with the Trump administration cracking down on undocumented immigrants, it looks like noncitizens working in the United States who are injured on the job have two options – continue on despite their injuries, working through the pain, or submit a claim at the risk of being deported.