Illegal Alien Gets Workers' Comp – Is That the Right Call?

By David North, March 13, 2010

A Nebraska Appeals Court late last year decided that an illegal alien who was hurt while working in a meat plant should get workers' compensation benefits, according to an article in the Lincoln Journal Star.

From the point of view of restrictionists, is that the right call?

Why should a person working illegally get legally mandated benefits for his injuries and his lost time in the factory? Such a person is not legally entitled to unemployment insurance or to cash assistance of any kind. Why should it be different with workers' comp?

I was particularly interested in the story because my first government job was as social worker in what was then called the New Jersey Division of Workmen's Compensation. One of the first things I learned was that while I was on the state payroll, workers' comp benefits were not funded by public money, but by insurance premiums paid by employers.

Further, employers whose workers got hurt frequently paid higher premiums than those whose workers filed fewer claims. The mechanism used by the insurance companies to set the premium was called an "experience rating."

The source of the money makes a big difference as to how one looks at the basic question posed above.

And the odd thing about the Nebraska case was that the lawyer for the illegal worker had the public policy position exactly right.

The worker, Odilon Visoso, who used the name Adam Rodriguez, had the misfortune of having a "100-pound slab of meat fall from a hook and hit the back of his head, neck and shoulder," according to the Journal Star. Later the company fired him for being an illegal alien, but the workers‘ comp case remained alive and well even after he was fired.

Visoso's lawyer, Ryan Holsten, was the one who raised the key public policy issue as he argued for his client. He said that disqualifying illegal immigrants from these benefits would encourage employers to hire more illegal aliens, because it would reduce their insurance costs if no benefits were paid to injured illegals. The judge agreed.

Similarly, employers are required by law to pay Social Security and unemployment insurance charges for illegal aliens, even though the specific workers so covered are not entitled to receive benefits from those programs (while they are in illegal status.) Employers should never be excused from paying the full set of fringes because one or more of their workers are here illegally. To do otherwise, as the illegal's lawyer pointed out, would just encourage the employment of more unauthorized workers.