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February 25, 2010

Illegal immigrants and healthcare coverage

Massachusetts is the only state with a large publicly run program that assures low income workers of getting private health insurance. Last year, to stem the growth of the program (which demands a lot of taxpayer subsidy), the state cut off all illegal immigrants from the program. Now a lawsuit is demanding that these households be restored their insurance.

An article from the Boston Globe:

By Kay Lazar, Globe Staff

A state law that excludes more than 26,000 legal immigrants from health coverage is unconstitutional and should be struck down, according to an unusual class action lawsuit filed today by several of the affected immigrants.

The lawsuit charges that the state's Connector Authority and its executive director, Jon Kingsdale, violated the immigrants' equal protection under the law last year when the administrators cut their health coverage in the Commonwealth Care program because of a tight state budget.

The Connector oversees the state's 2006 landmark health law that created Commonwealth Care, a state-subsidized program for low-income residents.

"You can't violate people's constitutional rights, just because you don’t have the funds," said Matt Selig, executive director of Health Law Advocates, a Boston-based public interest law firm that is assisting the immigrants in the suit.

Last year, the immigrants lost their coverage in Commonwealth Care, after lawmakers eliminated $130 million in funding to help balance the state’s budget. The Legislature ultimately restored about a third of the money, and the immigrants were given stripped-down health care plans, with significantly higher copayments for medications and other treatments.

Selig said the immigrants have taken the unusual step of filing the case directly with a single justice of the Supreme Court, because the urgency and broad impact mandate immediate review of the legal questions involved.

Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said it was unfortunate that immigrants have to sue the state, especially because Governor Deval Patrick and his administration have fought hard to retain coverage for the group. But she said the immigrants could not legally sue the Legislature, which is the body that voted to cut their health coverage.

"These people are their neighbors, they pay taxes, they are part of the fabric, but they are being separated because of their immigration status," she said.

Dick Powers, a spokesman for the Connector, said the authority had no comment on the lawsuit.

February 17, 2010

injury in migrant housing covered by workers compensation

Frantz Pierre lived in his employer’s tin-roofed barracks while doing seasonal work. He could not afford to live anywhere else. He hurt his ankle through an accident while living in the barracks. That was in 2003. The South Carolina Supreme Court just ruled that his employer’s workers compensation policy had to pay for Pierre’s medical treatment and disability.

It took seven years for this elemental matter of employer accountability to be established. This is a case study of the law’s delay in righting the scales of justice.

Roberto Ceniceros reported on this case in Business Insurance.

The article in full:

Migrant worker's injury in company housing ruled compensable

By Roberto Ceniceros

COLUMBIA, S.C.—A fractured ankle a migrant worker received while living in employer-provided housing arose in the course of employment and is compensable, the South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled.

The Tuesday decision in Frantz Pierre vs. Seaside Farms Inc. and American Home Insurance Co. overturned rulings by the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission and a circuit court, which decided that Mr. Pierre's 2003 ankle injury was not compensable because he was not at work.

The accident occurred the evening before his first day of work.

The commission and lower court also found that the seasonal worker hired to perform duties in a packing house was not required to live in the employer-provided housing, which court documents describe as a tin-roofed barracks.

But the South Carolina Supreme Court disagreed in remanding the case for further proceedings.

It said that Mr. Pierre' injury, which occurred when he fell on a sidewalk where water was flowing from an outdoor sink used to wash clothes, occurred as a result of a hazard on his employer's property.

“Thus, the source of the injury was a risk associated with the conditions under which the employees were required to live,” the state Supreme Court ruled. It also said Mr. Pierre essentially was required to live on the grounds because he and other migrant workers employed by Seaside “did not earn enough to obtain housing, and short-term rentals that coincided with the time they would be in the area did not exist.”

In addition, the nature of the job required workers to live near the packing facility and the living arrangement was convenient for the employer's work schedule that varied with weather and crop conditions.

In reaching its conclusion, the South Carolina Supreme Court cited similar decisions in Florida, New Mexico and Oregon that relied on a “bunkhouse rule.”

“We find the reasoning in these cases persuasive and that they represent the modern view in employee-residence jurisprudence,” the South Carolina high court ruled.

The bunkhouse rule requires compensating employees who are injured while on an employer's premises if an employment contract or the necessity of work requires them to be there. The rule generally requires contemplating whether an employee's use of the premises constitutes a portion of their compensation, court records state.

February 16, 2010

Profile of Haitian immigrants and workers

Per the Migration Policy Institute, the United States is home to about 535,000 Haitian immigrants — the largest concentration in any single country of Haitians abroad. As the country descended into chaos following the collapse of the Duvalier dictatorship in the late 1980s, Haitians began arriving in the United States in large numbers. Many received humanitarian protection. Between 1980 and 2000, the Haitian-born population residing in the United States more than quadrupled from 92,000 to 419,000.

The Haitian immigrant population in the United States has continued to grow since 2000, although at a slower rate. Recent natural disasters in Central America and the Caribbean have pushed large numbers of migrants to the United States and in the wake of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, emigration pressures from the devastated country are likely to grow.

The Haitian diaspora in the United States has also traditionally played an important role in assisting Haiti recover from natural disasters. More than half of all Haitian immigrants resided in just two states, Florida and New York, although they are also concentrated in New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Haitian immigrant women were more likely to participate in the civilian labor force than foreign-born women overall.
In 2008, Haitian-born women age 16 and older (71.7 percent) were more likely to participate in the civilian labor force than all foreign-born women (57.1 percent) overall. Haitian-born men were about equally as likely to be in the civilian labor force (80.7 percent) as foreign-born men overall (80.6 percent).

Nearly half of employed Haitian-born men worked in services or in construction, extraction, and transportation.

Among the 168,000 Haitian-born male workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force in 2008, 26.1 percent reported working in services and 22.3 percent reported working in construction, extraction, or transportation (see Table 2). By contrast, among the 13.6 million foreign-born male workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force in 2008, 17.4 percent reported working in services and 25.9 percent reported working in construction, extraction, or transportation.

Over one of every four employed Haitian-born women worked in healthcare support.
Among the 182,000 Haitian-born female workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force in 2008, 27.2 percent reported working in healthcare support occupations and 22.7 percent reported working in service occupations (see Table 2). By contrast, among the 9.5 million foreign-born female workers age 16 and older employed in the civilian labor force in 2008, 5.4 percent reported working in healthcare support and 25.7 percent reported working in service occupations.

Haitian immigrants were less likely to live in poverty than other immigrant groups.
The poverty rate among Haitian immigrant families was 12.9 percent in 2008, lower than the poverty rate among all foreign born families (14.9 percent). The difference was even larger among immigrant families headed by a female householder with no spouse present. Among Haitian immigrant households headed by a female with no husband present, the poverty rate was 20.8 percent in 2008, compared to 30.7 percent for all immigrants.

Legal and Unauthorized Haitian Immigrant Population

There were about 230,000 Haitian lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in 2008.
There were about 230,000 Haitian-born lawful permanent residents (LPRs) in the United States in 2008, about 1.8 percent of the estimated total 12.6 million LPRs.

Based on the 2000 Census, the federal government estimated that there were 76,000 unauthorized Haitian immigrants living in the United States.

The most recent published estimates from the Department of Homeland Security, based on analysis of the 2000 Census, suggest that the unauthorized immigrant population from Haiti grew from 67,000 in 1990 to 76,000 in 2000. Haitians accounted for 1.1 percent of all unauthorized immigrants in the United States in 2000, the 11th-largest unauthorized immigrant group in the country.

February 10, 2010

illegal population dropped in 2009

From the Washington Post: U.S. illegal immigrant population falls again. The number of illegal immigrants living in the United States fell by 1 million, or 8 percent, between 2007 and 2009, the U.S. government reported Tuesday. The decline, to 10.8 million people in January 2009 from 11.8 million in 2007 and 11.6 million in 2008, coincides with the national economic downturn. It marked the first back-to-back drops in the number of illegal immigrants since the federal government allowed many to obtain legal status after a 1986 amnesty.

February 3, 2010

The recession's inpact on immigration

The Migration Policy Institute released this brief statement: The effect of the recession on immigrants in the United States has been deepened by the fact that many immigrants share demographic characteristics with the groups most vulnerable during a recession — young people, individuals with lower levels of education, and those who have recently entered the labor force. Foreign-born workers are also overrepresented in the industries that have been hit the hardest during the recession, such as construction, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, and support and personal services.

In particular, those from Mexico and Central America have been affected disproportionately. Many worked in the construction industry, which started collapsing after the housing bubble burst in late 2006.

In addition, many recent refugees, including those from Iraq, have struggled to find work due to the recession. Their precarious situation prompted advocacy groups to criticize the funding of US refugee resettlement programs and to point to the lack of sensitivity shown to this group's vulnerability during an economic downturn.

These impacts have been lessened to some extent by the fact that immigrants are generally more flexible about changing jobs and geographic locations than are native-born workers.

The sluggish economy has also made the United States less attractive for those seeking economic opportunities. Data suggest that immigration to the United States began to slow in late 2007 and that flows of unauthorized immigrants have decreased significantly.

However, there is no evidence that the recession has caused a substantial wave of returns to Mexico. Over the last year, the size of the unauthorized population, of which the largest share (59 percent) is Mexican, has decreased only slightly, from an estimated 12.1 million in July 2008 to 11.9 million in August 2009.

In an interesting twist, anecdotal evidence suggests that some Mexican families have sent money to support their family members in the United States.

Another impact of the recession has been decreased demand for H-1B temporary visas for highly skilled workers. In previous years, the 65,000 cap has been reached within the first few days the visas become available (see Figure 4). The cap for fiscal year 2010 was not met until December 21, 2009 — nearly nine months after employers were eligible to file fiscal year 2010 petitions.