In a single recent year, the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reports that undocumented immigrants comprise 3.5 percent of the total population of our country. Inevitably, a certain percentage of those without proper employment papers will wind up working.
Just as with those who can legally work here in the United States, some of the undocumented workers will get hurt on the job. Can these undocumented workers seek workers' compensation benefits?
What does the law say?
The federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) prohibits those who are not legally allowed to work in the USA from being hired by American companies. Those corporations that flout the law face sanctions if they get caught with undocumented workers on their payrolls.
Could I get in trouble for filing a claim?
Companies have used IRCA to fight claims for workers' compensation benefits filed by undocumented workers. Even if the company that you file against doesn't dispute your claim for benefits, there is also a strong chance that filing for unemployment compensation benefits could be the catalyst behind increased attention from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
However, there are many states that have provisions to allow for workers' compensation benefits to be paid to those without the proper documentation to work here in the United States. The Supreme Court of Iowa has ruled that undocumented workers are not excluded from the Workers' Compensation Act's definition of "employee," thus they are able to receive workers' comp benefits if injured.
Weighing the pros and cons of filing
If you suffer only a minor, recoverable injury on the job and you are an undocumented worker, you may decide that it is not worth the trouble to file a claim, even if you qualify for financial and other benefits. It may not be worth it to draw the attention of immigration agents to your pursuit of the compensation you will receive.
But what about those undocumented workers who get seriously injured and/or permanently disabled in workplace accidents? Regardless of potentially being deported to their countries of origin in the future, they may be too badly injured to work again in any country. Those injured workers may, indeed, decide that it is worth the additional scrutiny to file a claim for financial and other benefits that are due them, or their survivors in the event of a worker's death.