It is estimated there are over 8.5 million undocumented immigrant workers in the United States. Approximately 5 million undocumented immigrants work in low paid, menial jobs where the risk of physical injury is high. These types of jobs typically do not attract legal residents due to low wages, physically demanding work duties or dangerous activities. Although these workers are here illegally, these workers are necessary to the workforce.
The Perryman Group prepared an in-depth study on illegal immigrants and the effects they have on the US workforce. (http://www.ilw.com/articles/2008,1008-perryman.pdf)
Highlights of the findings include:
– The latest census data indicates that 1 of every 8 people living in the US is an immigrant, and approximately one-third of those immigrants are undocumented.
– Undocumented immigrants comprise a large component of the workforce in some industries and geographic areas.
– In 10 states, the percentage of undocumented workers as a share of the workforce equals or exceeds the national average of 5%. Arizona has the highest proportion with 12%.
Problems with immigration often arise when an undocumented worker is injured and cannot return to work due to the disability. These situations require balancing between two separate systems including a state workers’ compensation system that is designed to assist the injured worker in restoring their earning capacity with a federal system designed to enforce immigration policies. This conflict can cause this “class” of people to be susceptible to unscrupulous employers. The most vulnerable are those that are incapable of returning to work and truly need vocational assistance to regain their earning capacity.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has concluded that unauthorized aliens can receive workers’ compensation benefits. Despite this holding, many undocumented workers fear repercussions of reporting a work related injury including termination, deportation or even criminal prosecution. On many occasions undocumented workers do not want to “rock the boat” and would rather just continue working despite ongoing problems related to the injury. The failure to receive treatment or even report an injury has a drastic effect on the injured workers claim when, and if, they decide to go forward with their claim.