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November 29, 2007

“Legal, Illegal Immigrant Numbers at Record Highs”

The Center for Immigration Studies has summarized some key immigration trends in a release made today. Among the findings, “Since 2000, 10.3 million immigrants have arrived — the highest seven-year period of immigration in U.S. history. More than half of post-2000 arrivals (5.6 million) are estimated to be illegal aliens.” Consistent with CIS’s approach to immigration, this report tends of focus on the negative: low educational status, use of welfare, etc. But is it worth reviewing.

The release:

The report, “Immigrants in the United States, 2007: A Profile of America’s Foreign-Born Population,” is online at http://www.cis.org/articles/2007/back1007.html

Among the report’s findings:

# The immigrant population (legal and illegal) reached a record of 37.9 million in 2007.

# Immigrants account for one in eight U.S. residents, the highest level in 80 years.

# Overall, nearly one in three immigrants is an illegal alien. Half of Mexican and Central American immigrants and one-third of South American immigrants are illegal.

# Since 2000, 10.3 million immigrants have arrived — the highest seven-year period of immigration in U.S. history. More than half of post-2000 arrivals (5.6 million) are estimated to be illegal aliens.

# Of adult immigrants, 31 percent have not completed high school, compared to 8 percent of natives. The share of immigrants and natives with a college degree is about the same.

# 33 percent of immigrant-headed households use at least one welfare program, compared to 19 percent for native households. Among households headed by immigrants from Mexico, the largest single group, 51 percent use at least one welfare program.

# The poverty rate for immigrants and their U.S.-born children (under 18) is 17 percent, nearly 50 percent higher than the rate for natives and their children.

# 34 percent of immigrants lack health insurance, compared to 13 percent of natives. Immigrants and their U.S.-born children account for 71 percent of the increase in the uninsured since 1989.

# The primary reason for the high rates of immigrant poverty, lack of health insurance, and welfare use is their low education levels, not their legal status or an unwillingness to work.

# Of immigrant households, 82 percent have at least one worker, compared to 73 percent of native households.

# Immigrants make significant progress over time. But even those who have been here for 20 years are more likely to be in poverty, lack insurance, or use welfare than are natives.

# There is a worker present in 78 percent of immigrant households using at least one welfare program.

# Immigration accounts for virtually all of the national increase in public school enrollment over the last two decades. In 2007, there were 10.8 million school-age children from immigrant families in the United States.

# Immigrants and natives have similar rates of entrepreneurship — 13 percent of natives and 11 percent of immigrants are self-employed.

# Recent immigration has had no significant impact on the nation’s age structure. Without the 10.3 million post-2000 immigrants, the average age in America would be virtually unchanged at 36.5 years.

# Detailed information is provided for Texas, California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Washington, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland.

Data Source: The Current Population Survey provides the data for the study. It was collected by the Census Bureau in March 2007 and has not been fully analyzed until now. There is agreement among policy experts, including the Department of Homeland Security, that roughly 90 percent of illegal immigrants respond to Census Bureau surveys of this kind. This allows for separate estimates of the size and characteristics of the illegal immigrant population.

For more information, contact the author of the report, Steven Camarota, the Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, at (202) 466-8185 or sac@cis.org .

November 27, 2007

Florida employer scam involving illegal workers

Workcompcentral, a subscription based news service, reported today on a conviction of a $17 million payroll scam by a Florida construction contractor. It paid its workers in cash to avoid paying federal taxes. Besides this scam, it appears to have cheated on its workers compensation insurance. We see here again the toxic cocktail of employers using undocumented workers and cheating on tax and insurance obligations. Florida’s Department of Financial Services and California’s Insurance Commission Fraud Assessment Commission have both focused in a serious way to uncover these abuses.

The full article:

Fla. Contractor Underreported Payroll by $17 Million: Top [11/27/07]

A West Palm Beach, Fla. contractor accused of using check cashers as phony subcontractors was convicted by a federal jury last week of underreporting payrolls by more than $17 million over more than a decade.

Lucky Mata, 47, the owner of Kodiak Construction and Management, was convicted last Wednesday on ten counts of conspiracy, filing false payroll tax returns and obstructing a federal grand jury inquiry following a nine-day trial in Miami.

The case is part of an ongoing investigation into payments of cash to undocumented construction crews by contractors seeking to avoid the payment of benefits, including workers' compensation premiums.

The Mata case, which stems from a June 15, 2006, indictment by a grand jury in Miami, did not result in charges involving workers' compensation insurance.

Mata's attorney said in an interview some of those involved in the scheme secured workers' compensation for some members of construction crews at inadequate levels.

Prosecutors alleged Mata underreported payrolls to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and used a network of confederates to cash checks through banks and check-cashing stores without disclosing the role of Kodiak in the transactions.

The federal indictment alleged Mata operated the network to avoid paying federal payroll taxes and to avoid disclosure of major cash transactions by Kodiak under the federal Currency Transaction Report (CTR), which requires detailed alerts to federal regulators involving more than $10,000 in cash.

Cash from the checks was returned to Kodiak, minus a fee paid to the check cashers, and then paid to crews of undocumented immigrants, prosecutors said.

Mata also was convicted of falsifying subcontractor invoices during the federal grand jury investigation.

A series of cases investigated by the International Revenue Service and the Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS) during the past two years has targeted the use of undocumented workers not covered by workers' compensation.
Those charges were not contained in the indictment.

Nina Bannister, DFS spokeswoman, said the agency was not involved in the Mata investigation.

James L. Eisenberg, Mata's attorney, said the investigation focused in part on workers' compensation but determined the arrangement involved a licensed insurance agent and legitimate policies.

"There were people that were listed as subcontractors, and one big check was written to them," Eisenberg said Monday. "They were supposed to take out the money for withholding from their workers.

"There was testimony they did get workers' compensation coverage for the workers, but it covered only a few people and they were listed as inside workers when, for example, they should have been covered at roofing rates," Eisenberg said. "There was workers' compensation coverage. It just wasn't substantial enough."

Eisenberg said Mata will appeal the conviction, based on a prosecutorial error that triggered a mistrial in the first of two trials in the case. He said the second trial constitutes double jeopardy in the case.

Prosecutors said Mata ran the check-cashing scheme using Kodiak from 1994 through 2005. He faces more than 90 years in prison if sentenced on all charges.

--By Michael Whiteley, WorkCompCentral Eastern Bureau Chief


November 24, 2007

Searching for farm labor in California

The agricultural industry is heavily dependent on immigrant labor, and it is widely accepted that many – perhaps most – of their immigrant workers are here illegally (I have seen estimates of up to 70%). Western Growers Association has been way out in front of the political effort to ensure an ample supply of labor during the critical few weeks of harvest time. It describes itself this way: “Western Growers' members grow, pack and ship nearly one half of the nation's fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts.” The association has membership in California and Arizona. On 11/20 the CEO wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal criticizing the federal no-match program, which a court blocked in October, and advocating AgJobs, which was inserted in the immigration reform bill expressly to address the west coast farm industry.

Here is the text of Tom Nassif’s column:

In the midst of the combustive debate over immigration reform, we in agriculture have been forthright about the elephant in America's living room: Much of our workforce is in the country illegally -- as much as 70%.

Faced with the option of economic ruin, as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of our livelihood rots in the fields, or the embrace of a fatally flawed immigration system, our industry and farm families opt to survive. Who wouldn't? For those who have a 10-20 day harvest window to make or break their entire business year, government promises to fix the system don't work. We can't wait for rules to change. We need reform and we need it now.

Western Growers -- representing half of all the fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. -- has repeatedly called for a fix. We want and expect government to enforce immigration laws; we want a secure border, fraud-proof IDs and valid Social Security cards. Despite a broken and unworkable system, however, Congress has chosen not to act. Meanwhile, the Bush administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) -- under intense political pressure -- did begin to move.

Last month, a federal judge ordered an indefinite delay to the DHS's "no-match" program that would have forced employers to fire workers whose Social Security numbers did not match their names. The judge said it would cause "irreparable harm to innocent workers and employers." This preliminary injunction has prevented the DHS from proceeding with the shortsighted no-match program.

The DHS openly concedes our industry's reliance on falsely documented workers. But like a physician who diagnoses an open wound but uses salt in place of sutures, DHS avoided the cure in favor of additional pain.

The pain was in the form of the no-match rules. The DHS guidelines would have established purported "safe harbor" procedures for employers who received a Social Security Administration (SSA) no-match letter. The letter notifies an employer that he has submitted employee W-2s with names and Social Security numbers that do not match. Employers would have had to fire employees who could not produce new documentation within 90 days of receiving the letter, or face the risk that DHS may find that the employer had knowledge that the employee was unauthorized.

The regulations would have put farmers in an untenable situation: Either terminate the majority of their existing workforce and let the crops die in the fields, or disregard the rules and risk having to pay huge fines and penalties for "knowingly" employing undocumented workers. This attempt by DHS to expose illegal immigrants would have done nothing to address the underlying issues or correct the problem.

Fortunately, the courts have stepped in and the Bush administration now has an opportunity to fix our broken system. The plaintiffs in the case argued that DHS's plans would place a costly burden on employers and result in the needless firing of employees. That, in turn, would open employers up to lawsuits and charges of discrimination. Civil liberties organizations pointed out the no-match rules would likely lead to the violation of the rights of many legal workers who might have made a mistake they couldn't correct before deadline.

These valid concerns must be addressed. Agriculture yearns for a legal, stable, economical workforce; we have been saying so for years. And though we are relieved by the court's decision, it doesn't change the fact that this industry still needs a workable solution. Our current guest-worker program, known as H2-A, is costly and cumbersome, and sets labor standards that are not competitive in the global marketplace.

At the Bush administration's request, we have suggested changes to the H-2A program, such as expediting the application process and faxing guest-worker approval notices, instead of relying on "snail mail" while highly perishable crops await timely harvesters. These fixes are not difficult and can, in most cases, be administratively applied -- what is the delay?

If the DHS's no-match program had gone forward, America's domestic food supply would have been irreparably damaged. Small farm owners would have gone out of business and large operators could have taken their operations abroad -- taking hundreds of thousands of jobs with them.

Our industry, as well as farm-worker advocates -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- support legislation known as AgJOBS. This bill, which was a part of the Senate's "grand bargain," includes a temporary guest-worker program that logically matches willing farmers with willing foreign laborers.

AgJOBS provides the perfect opportunity for Congress to make progress on this critically important issue. Americans don't raise their children to work in the fields, and so we are reliant on a foreign workforce. We desperately want that workforce to be legal, and AgJOBS affords us that opportunity.

The Bush administration does support comprehensive immigration reform, and reportedly set in place the DHS's draconian no-match rules to force the issue. Still, it was playing a risky game of chance with U.S. agriculture to the detriment of our industry, our economy and American consumers.

We must stop playing games with our domestic food supply. Agriculture needs workers, Americans won't do the work and Congress lacks the courage to pass a comprehensive immigration package. It is time for Congress to find its courage, rise above the anger of the activists, and come together to solve this problem.

Mr. Nassif is president & CEO of Western Growers.

November 22, 2007

Immigrants in Arkansas

Arkansas businesses such as Tyson Foods, ministers and others have founded The Arkansas Friendship Coalition to promote the role of 100,000 immigrants in the state’s economy and offset anti-immigration initiatives.

For Arkansas there is an in-depth analysis of the immigrant population, prepared by in-state and national specialists in immigration studies. Among the findings: (1) Arkansas experienced the greatest growth (48%) in Hispanic immigration of any state during 2000-2005. (2) One quarter of immigrants are engaged in food processing (beef and poultry), and (3) in 2004-5, half of the 100,000 immigrants were undocumented.

Most immigrants, the study reports. As employed in the manufacturing sector, which includes meet processing. Overall, for the past ten years the state has experienced a reduction in manufacturing employment, and without this new source of worker the report estimates that manufacturing would have declined further.

Neighboring Oklahoma enacted anti-illegal immigration legislation, The Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2007 [HB 1804], in May. It denies illegal immigrants state identification, and requires all state and local agencies to verify citizenship status of applicants before authorizing benefits. The law also require public employers to enter job applicants into an electronic immigration database to verify legal status.

November 20, 2007

$300 billion a year in worker remittances back home.

For 38 countries remittances accounted for more than 10 percent of the gross domestic product. Only about a third of the money, $96 billion, comes from the United States, with large sums also originating in Europe and the Middle East. These and other observations from an article in the New York Times.

The article in full:

THE money flows in dribs and drabs, crossing borders $200 or $300 at a time. It buys cornmeal and rice and plaid private school skirts and keeps the landlord at bay. Globally, the tally is huge: migrants from poor countries send home about $300 billion a year. That is more than three times the global total in foreign aid, making “remittances” the main source of outside money flowing to the developing world.

Surveys show that 80 percent of the money or more is immediately spent, on food, clothing, housing, education or the occasional beer party or television set. Still, there are tens of billions available for savings or investment, in places where capital is scarce. While remittances have been shown to reduce household poverty, policymakers are looking to increase the effect on economic growth.

Some migrants, for instance, send home money to savings accounts at small bank-like microfinance institutions, which use the resulting capital pool to lend to local entrepreneurs.

People who track remittances have been starved for basic data. It is difficult to say exactly how much money is flowing and even harder to say where to, exactly. Sums large and small travel informally, through the mail or in the care of friends. The World Bank, the main tally keeper (in the form of a careful economist named Dilip Ratha), only counts transfers recorded by central banks. Last year’s sum came to $208 billion. Bank officials estimate that the global total is about 50 percent higher — $300 billion or more.

Last month, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, an arm of the United Nations, and the Inter-American Development Bank released a set of numbers culled from additional sources, including private survey data and records of money-transfer companies. (The research was led by Manuel Orozco of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington research group.)

The new study’s estimate of the global total, $301 billion, is about the same as the World Bank’s. But when it comes to specific countries, the two organizations vary widely.

The World Bank, capturing central bank data, said southern African countries received about $1.4 billion in 2006. The new study said $4.5 billion. The World Bank puts Brazil’s intake at $3.5 billion; the new study reports $7.4 billion. Depending which numbers you use, Russia received either $3.3 billion (old) or $13.8 billion (new). The World Bank data has been published annually, while the new study, part of a larger project, has not been widely reviewed.

By any accounting, the amounts involved are big and flow worldwide: migration truly is global. The new study found that 60 countries received $1 billion a year or more last year. In 38 countries, remittances accounted for more than 10 percent of the gross domestic product. Mr. Orozco estimates that only about a third of the money, $96 billion, comes from the United States, with large sums also originating in Europe and the Middle East.

Donald F. Terry, an official at the Inter American Development Bank, which helped sponsor the study, has campaigned for years to publicize the importance of remittances. His policy agenda includes reducing the costs of sending money and helping migrants open bank accounts, especially back home, so they can gain access to mortgages and business loans.

“Putting it out there this way increases the level of policy interest,” Mr. Terry said. “What’s stunning is how critical remittances are in almost every developing country in the world.

November 11, 2007

Illegal immigrants’ Emergency Care Is Limited by U.S. Rule

Per the NY Times, under a limited provision of Medicaid, the national health program for the poor, the federal government permits emergency coverage for illegal immigrants and other noncitizens. But the Bush administration has been more closely scrutinizing and increasingly denying state claims for federal payment for some emergency services, Medicaid experts said.

The article goes on to say that in the wake of stricter federal rules, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and 20 other states have extended full Medicaid coverage, using only state money, to some immigrants who do not qualify for federal aid. Under federal law, proof of citizenship is required for full Medicaid coverage, but not for emergency coverage.

But some states with growing immigrant populations, like Georgia and Arizona, have themselves moved to limit coverage under emergency Medicaid, leading to intense opposition from immigrant health advocates.

The full article:

Last month, federal officials, concluding an audit that began in 2004 and was not challenged by the state until now, told New York State that they would no longer provide matching funds for chemotherapy under the emergency program.

The federal government has told New York State health officials that chemotherapy, which had been covered for illegal immigrants under a government-financed program for emergency medical care, does not qualify for coverage. The decision sets the stage for a battle between the state and federal governments over how medical emergencies are defined.

The change comes amid a fierce national debate on providing medical care to immigrants, with New York State officials and critics saying this latest move is one more indication of the Bush administration’s efforts to exclude the uninsured from public health services.

State officials in New York and other states have found themselves caught in the middle. The New York dispute, focusing on illegal immigrants with cancer — a marginal group of unknown size among the more than 500,000 people living in New York illegally — has become a flash point for health officials and advocates for immigrants in recent weeks.

Under a limited provision of Medicaid, the national health program for the poor, the federal government permits emergency coverage for illegal immigrants and other noncitizens. But the Bush administration has been more closely scrutinizing and increasingly denying state claims for federal payment for some emergency services, Medicaid experts said.

Last month, federal officials, concluding an audit that began in 2004 and was not challenged by the state until now, told New York State that they would no longer provide matching funds for chemotherapy under the emergency program. Yesterday, state officials sent a letter to the federal Medicaid agency protesting the change, saying that doctors, not the federal government, should determine when chemotherapy is needed.

Federal health officials declined to discuss chemotherapy or the New York claims. But Dennis Smith, director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a statement, “Longstanding interpretations by the agency have been that emergency Medicaid benefits are to cover emergencies.”

The federal statute that defines an emergency under Medicaid makes it clear that routine care for illegal immigrants and nonresidents, including foreign students and visitors, is not covered. But the only procedures it specifically excludes from reimbursement are organ transplants, leaving to the states the task of further defining an emergency. States and courts have grappled with the question for years, yielding no clear definition.

Some states have maintained that any time a patient is able to schedule an appointment — as opposed to showing up at an emergency room — the condition would not be considered an emergency. Others, including New York, have defined an emergency as any condition that could become an emergency or lead to death without treatment.

“There are clearly situations that we consider emergencies where we need to give people chemotherapy,” Richard F. Daines, the New York State health commissioner, said in an interview late yesterday. “To say they don’t qualify is self-defeating in that those situations will eventually become emergencies.”

Dr. Daines said that for every effort in the state to use Medicaid “creatively” to cover the uninsured, “the Bush administration, at every chance, is pushing it back.”

The state estimated that the federal government denied $60 million in matching funds for emergency Medicaid from 2001 to 2006, including $11.1 million for chemotherapy. Medicaid costs are typically split evenly between the state and the federal government.

It is unclear how many other states are providing chemotherapy to illegal immigrants, because all emergency services are generally lumped together in state Medicaid reports. But others have also been challenged on emergency Medicaid claims.

In Washington State, where illegal immigrants are entitled to Medicaid coverage for a month or more after treatment in an emergency, officials said a federal audit of their emergency Medicaid claims was under way, and the state has asked the federal government to provide a definition of emergency services.

“The awkward position state Medicaid programs are in is trying to figure out what kinds of medical care should be available for emergency conditions,” said Douglas Porter, assistant secretary for the Washington Health and Recovery Services Administration.

Washington and other states have also fought the federal government over Medicaid for infants born to illegal immigrants, an issue reflected in the ferocious debate over the national children’s health insurance program.

In the wake of stricter federal rules, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and 20 other states have extended full Medicaid coverage, using only state money, to some immigrants who do not qualify for federal aid. Under federal law, proof of citizenship is required for full Medicaid coverage, but not for emergency coverage.

But some states with growing immigrant populations, like Georgia and Arizona, have themselves moved to limit coverage under emergency Medicaid, leading to intense opposition from immigrant health advocates.

Advocates for breast cancer patients said they were particularly concerned about the denial of coverage after lobbying the federal government for years to provide breast cancer screening to uninsured women. Under a program offered to underinsured and uninsured women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides free or low-cost screening.

“To allow women to be diagnosed with breast cancer and then create an obstacle for them to get treatment is a horrendous policy,” said Donna Lawrence, executive director of Susan G. Komen for the Cure in New York.

In New York City, cancer kills 15,000 residents a year. It is the second leading cause of death among both the native- and the foreign-born, according to a 2006 survey by the city’s health department, with lung, breast and colon cancer the top killers.

The state had initially accepted the federal finding that New York was not entitled to federal reimbursement for chemotherapy under the emergency Medicaid program. But until last month, state health officials had not informed medical providers that the treatment would no longer be covered by either state or federal funds.

That provoked a pitched outcry from immigrant health advocates over the last few weeks, and state health officials reversed their position this week, saying Medicaid should cover the treatment.

State officials said they were challenging the federal decision on the grounds that chemotherapy treatment qualifies as an emergency under the federal government’s own rules. Certain conditions, including diseases of the brain, spinal cord and bone marrow disease, could require immediate chemotherapy.

The state’s letter also said that chemotherapy can be used to “cure cancer, control cancer and/or ease cancer symptoms,” and that if that the measures typically used to treat cancer were not available to patients, their health could be in serious jeopardy — one of the federal criteria in determining an emergency.

The cost of emergency Medicaid is still a relatively small portion of state Medicaid budgets, experts said, and a majority of the money is spent on care for pregnant women, labor and delivery. But the demand for it rising quickly as the immigrant population balloons.

Health advocates say that many illegal immigrants who need and qualify for emergency care are afraid to seek help, and that emergency Medicaid is underused.

A recent study of emergency Medicaid services in North Carolina found that spending, largely devoted to pregnant women, increased by 28 percent from 2001 to 2004; still, the emergency costs accounted for less than 1 percent of total Medicaid expenditures.

New York City public hospitals, which serve 400,000 uninsured patients a year, among them illegal immigrants, would continue to provide the cancer treatment no matter what, said officials from the Health and Hospitals Corporation. But if there is no reimbursement from Medicaid, they said, they will have to look elsewhere for financial support.

November 6, 2007

Analysis of farm labor economics in California

Philip Martin of UC Davis prepared a fresh analysis of labor economics in California’s produce growing industry. He challenges the assertion that there is a labor shortage, which assertion in behind the move to get AgJobs passed by Congress. I have cited Martin’s work in the past. Below is a summary of his new study from the Center for Immigration Studies, which is opposed to granting rights to illegal immigrants.

The study is called Farm Labor Shortages: How Real? What Response?

# Production of fruits and vegetables have been increasing. In particular, plantings of very-labor-intensive crops such as cherries and strawberries have grown by more than 20 percent in just five years.

# The average farm worker makes $9.06 an hour, compared to $16.75 for non-farm production workers.

# Real wages for farm workers increased one-half of one percent (.5%) a year on average between 2000 and 2006. If there were a shortage, wages would be rising much more rapidly.

# Farm worker earnings have risen slower in California and Florida (the states with the most fruit and vegetable production) than in the United States as a whole.

# The average household spends only about $1 a day on fresh fruits and vegetables.

# Labor costs comprise only 6 percent of the price consumers pay for fresh produce. Thus, if farm wages were allowed to rise 40 percent, and if all the costs were passed on to consumers, the cost to the average household would be only about $8 a year.

# Mechanization could offset labor higher labor costs. After the “Bracero” Mexican guestworker program ended in the mid-1960s, farm worker wages rose 40 percent, but consumer prices rose relatively little because the mechanization of some crops dramatically increased productivity.

# Labor-saving mechanization can be difficult for one farmer, since packers and processors are usually set up to deal either with hand-picked or machine-picked crops, but not both. Government has a key role to play in facilitating mechanization.

November 5, 2007

Case study of work injured immigrant who was deported

File a Claim, Get Deported? A new U.S. Census report says that almost one in five people living in the United States speaks a language at home other than English. For a while, Edgar Velazquez was one of them. But that was before the native of Chiapas, Mexico, was deported to his home country.

This is a column I have written for Risk & Insurance Magazine.

His misadventures in workers' comp land while he was in the United States serve as stark reminder of the plight of illegal workers who are injured on the job.

Of the 37.5 million foreign-born persons living here, 12 million are without documentation. Before U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported him in August, this 22-year-old from a mountain hamlet was one of 7.5 million people working here illegally.

I've followed his story through WorkCompCentral's online daily news service and The Providence Journal. What he's gone through speaks volumes about the perils of keeping 5 percent of our workforce in legal limbo.

In 2005, Velazquez paid a transporter --a "coyote"--to help him sneak into the United States. He got to Rhode Island, where his uncle helped him find work in landscaping. According to the Washington, D.C.-based research group the Pew Hispanic Center, one-quarter of that industry is staffed by illegals.

On March 31, 2006, while employed by Billy G's Tree Service in Warwick, R.I., Velazquez was cutting a tree limb when his chainsaw kicked back and slashed his face. Velazquez says company owner, William Gorman, refused to give him aid; so he and a co-worker called 911. Surgeons performed emergency reconstructive surgery.

Velazquez's wounds have largely healed, but he suffers from permanent nerve damage. His situation, although tragic for him, provides a case study for the rest of us.

Illegal workers often have no idea about their workers' compensation rights. Hospitals and clinics typically assign them a free care account due to their lack of money. It's not unusual for an illegal to take months to recover from a serious injury before realizing that they can submit a claim. That's the path Velazquez took in early 2007, when he retained a lawyer.

On Aug. 2, the lawyer was in a Providence courthouse when ICE arrested Velazquez outside. After time in ICE detention centers in Massachusetts and Texas, Velazquez was dumped on the Mexican side of the border.

Gorman denies that he informed on Velazquez, but he's got his own problems: He had no workers' comp insurance. Hiring illegal workers and skipping workers' comp is a toxic cocktail throughout the country. The state is now asking Gorman to pay up to $1,000 for each day he operated his business without cover.

With no uninsured injured worker fund in Rhode Island, that means Velazquez' only resource may be Gorman's liability policy. But how can Velazquez sue Gorman from Mexico?

That question is being answered at two levels. Global Workers Justice is promoting better access to American courts for workers like Velazquez. Most states grant illegal immigrants employment rights. But the plaintiffs have to be here to state their case.

As for Velazquez, in September, through the intercession of Nevada Senator Harry Reid, ICE permitted him a brief "humanitarian" return the to United States. Velazquez's lawyer is also pressing the workers' comp claim against Gorman.

Whether Velazquez will ever be fairly compensated remains to be seen. But his case is just one of what must be many, and I estimate that half of them go unreported. For those who do report cases, the frequent lag in their reporting and the deportation risk present them with obstacles as dreadful as Velazquez' chainsaw.