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February 5, 2011

States may bar workers comp for illegal immigrants

This is a refrain from recent years: state legislators who want to screw illegal workers who are injured or die on the job. Not only do these proposals violate a standard of fairness, but they threaten to open employers up to tort suits outside the workers comp system. Very capable Henry Ceniceros of Business Insurance describes proposals in Georgia, Montana, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

His article in full.

States may bar comp for illegal immigrants
Roberto Ceniceros

With conservative lawmakers in control in several states, more legislation is being introduced that would deny workers compensation benefits to illegal immigrants who are hurt on the job. And while such efforts have failed in recent years, today's changed political climate could result in some of that legislation becoming law this time around, some say.

Bills that would bar illegal immigrants from collecting workers comp benefits are pending in Georgia, Montana, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

There is growing demand from legislators and their staff for information on barring illegal immigrants from collecting workers comp benefits, said Ann Morse, program director, immigrant policy project for the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington.

“It seems to be making a resurgence this year,” Ms. Morse said. “It just seems like it's heating up right now.”

In the absence of federal immigration reform, state legislators will continue to step forward with local solutions, said a NCSL report released Jan. 13. NCSL found that in 2010, 46 state legislatures and the District of Columbia enacted or adopted 333 laws or resolutions addressing immigration.

Previous efforts to bar illegal immigrants from collecting workers compensation have failed in part because of objections to their unintended consequences for employers, observers say. For example, such a change would deprive employers of workers compensation's exclusive remedy protection, exposing employers to civil litigation over worker injuries.

“Most legislators (eventually) realize they are shooting themselves in the foot if they enact this kind of legislation,” said Rebecca Smith, a staff attorney who tracks workers compensation legislation affecting immigrants for the New York-based National Employment Law Project, a worker support organization.

But recently introduced bills that would restrict providing workers comp benefits to illegal immigrants have a greater chance of passing than in the past because of increased political support, said Keith Bateman, vp of workers compensation at the Des Plaines, Ill.-based Property Casualty Insurers Assn. of America.

“With the increased strength of the very conservative wing of the Republican party, the chances are better this year,” Mr. Bateman said.

In Montana, where systemwide workers comp reform efforts are under way, legislators on Jan. 19 approved H.B. 71 by a 69-31 vote. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gordon Vance, R-Bozeman, now must be considered by the state Senate.

The bill would require insurers to establish processes to ensure that wage-loss or medical benefits for work-related injuries would not be paid to illegal immigrants, according to a state fiscal note. The bill does not specify potential responsibilities for self-insured employers, and Rep. Vance did not return a call seeking comment.

In South Carolina, meanwhile, Republican lawmakers on Jan. 11 introduced S.B. 21, which would restrict illegal immigrants from receiving workers comp benefits.

And in Georgia, a Republican-backed bill, S.B. 7, also would ban illegal immigrants from receiving wage-loss or medical benefits for work-related injuries.

Such legislation could expose employers to legal and insurance problems, said Alissa C. Atkins, a workers comp defense attorney at David & Rosetti L.L.P. in Atlanta. Illegal immigrants barred from accessing the workers comp system could take their claims into the tort system, where employers are exposed to awards that are capped under the workers comp system, Ms. Atkins and others said.

“That is the whole point of the Georgia workers comp act, that the employers get the benefit of the exclusive remedy argument,” Ms. Atkins said. “And if we are taking that away, that opens a can of worms of potential for pain and suffering (awards) which is not allowed under the Georgia workers comp act.”

Should that occur, employers could be pushed to tap their general liability policies rather than their workers comp coverage, Ms. Atkins said.

One solution could be to craft companion legislation that also would prohibit illegal immigrants from taking work injury claims before a civil court. But that could raise constitutional challenges, she said.

“It's a tricky thing for drafters to try and do that, because they can't deny people access to the courts,” Ms. Smith of NELP said.

There also is a public policy problem with stripping illegal immigrants of workers compensation benefits, said Bruce C. Wood, associate general counsel and director of workers comp for the American Insurance Assn. in Washington. Adopting such a measure could encourage some employers to hire illegal immigrants knowing they would get a free pass should an employee get injured, Mr. Wood said.

“We find that (potential) policy result to be troubling,” Mr. Wood said. The AIA opposes adoption of laws barring illegal immigrants from receiving workers comp benefits, he notes.

Although past legislation initially may have received significant support, the potential for it to open employers to civil suits and encourage some employers to hire illegal immigrants eventually convinced lawmakers to rethink their support for them, Mr. Wood said. “There are those interests that maybe think longer and harder about the merit of the issue and then begin to think otherwise,” Mr. Wood said.

One bill attempts to address some of those issues.

Legislation introduced in New Hampshire early this month by Rep. William Infantine, R-Hillsborough, would limit workers comp benefits for undocumented immigrants, while also discouraging employers from hiring such individuals.

H.B. 236 would limit work comp benefits to medical expenses and “remedial payments” when an illegal immigrant is injured on the job. It also would require employers or insurers to pay for workers comp benefits if they knew, or should have known, that an injured worker resided in the country illegally.

“There are probably some unscrupulous employers that will hire these people knowing they are not legal to work here,” Rep. Infantine said. “There are also situations where the employee will provide faulty (residence) information. So I am trying not to make it so severe that it borders on being morally wrong.”

February 2, 2011

Estimate of illegal immigrant population in 2010

The total number of illegal immigrants is stable and its labor force participation rate remains very high. They are here to work.

The Pew Hispanic Center released an estimate that the total illegal population, of which 58% is Mexican, is unchanged in 2010 from 2009, about 11.2 million, of which 8 million are in the workforce. “This stability in 2010 follows a two-year decline from the peak of 12 million in 2007 to 11.1 million in 2009 that was the first significant reversal in a two-decade pattern of growth. Unauthorized immigrants were 3.7% of the nation's population in 2010.” “Despite the recent decline and leveling off, the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States has tripled since 1990, when it was 3.5 million. The size of this population grew by a third since 2000, when was 8.4 million.”

What the reports says about the illegal workforce:

There were 8 million unauthorized immigrants in the workforce in March 2010, down slightly from 2007, when there were 8.4 million. They represent 5.2% of the workforce, similar to their proportion for the past half-decade, when they represented 5% to 5.5% of workers. The labor force participation rate is 71%, compared to 51% for the entire 306 million population.

State patterns differ widely, but generally states with large numbers or shares of unauthorized immigrants also have relatively large numbers or shares in the workforce.

States with the largest share of unauthorized immigrants in the workforce include Nevada (10%), California (9.7%), Texas (9%) and New Jersey (8.6%). Because unauthorized immigrants are more likely than the overall population to be of working age, their share in a state’s workforce is substantially higher than their share of a state’s population. California also has the largest number of people in the labor force who are unauthorized immigrants (1.85 million), followed by Texas (1.1 million), Florida (600,000) and New York (450,000.).

The number of unauthorized immigrants in the nation's workforce, 8 million in March 2010, also did not differ from the Pew Hispanic Center estimate for 2009. As with the population total, the number of unauthorized immigrants in the labor force had decreased in 2009 from its peak of 8.4 million in 2007. They made up 5.2% of the labor force.

The number of children born to at least one unauthorized-immigrant parent in 2009 was 350,000 and they made up 8% of all U.S. births, essentially the same as a year earlier. An analysis of the year of entry of unauthorized immigrants who became parents in 2009 indicates that 61% arrived in the U.S. before 2004, 30% arrived from 2004 to 2007, and 9% arrived from 2008 to 2010.

Other key points from the new report include:

The decline in the population of unauthorized immigrants from its peak in 2007 appears due mainly to a decrease in the number from Mexico, which went down to 6.5 million in 2010 from 7 million in 2007. Mexicans remain the largest group of unauthorized immigrants, accounting for 58% of the total.

The number of unauthorized immigrants decreased from 2007 to 2010 in Colorado, Florida, New York and Virginia. The combined population in three contiguous Mountain West states-Arizona, Nevada and Utah-also declined.

In contrast to the national trend, the combined unauthorized immigrant population in three contiguous West South Central states-Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas-grew from 2007 to 2010.

Although the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. is below 2007 levels, it has tripled since 1990, when it was 3.5 million and grown by a third since 2000, when it was 8.4 million.

The estimates are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, augmented with the Pew Hispanic Center's analysis of the demographic characteristics of the unauthorized immigrant population using a "residual estimation methodology."

Although the estimates indicate trends in the size and composition of the unauthorized-immigrant population, they are not designed to answer the question of why these changes occurred. There are many possible factors. The deep recession that began in the U.S. economy officially ended in 2009, but recovery has been slow to take hold and unemployment remains high. Immigration flows have tended to decrease in previous periods of economic distress.

The period covered by this analysis also has been accompanied by changes in the level of immigration enforcement and in enforcement strategies, not only by the federal government but also at state and local levels. Immigration also is subject to pressure by demographic and economic conditions in sending countries. This analysis does not attempt to quantify the relative impact of these forces on levels of unauthorized immigration.

The report, "Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010," written by Jeffrey S. Passel and D'Vera Cohn, is available at the Pew Hispanic Center's website, www.pewhispanic.org.

The Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center, is a nonpartisan, non-advocacy research organization based in Washington, D.C. and is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.