Unauthorized workers in Harvey clean-up: out of luck

The large unauthorized construction workforce in Texas is extremely vulnerable due to many employers not having to pay workers’ comp benefits and due to ICE enforcement.

Harvey Meets Workers’ Comp: New Horror Movie?

By Peter Rousmaniere, published by www.workerscompensation.com August 30, 2017

Harvey brought 50 inches of rain and a thick dossier of irony to the workers’ compensation system in Texas. This natural disaster, like others have in the past, will challenge an economic safety net like workers’ comp to deliver assured and complete response.

Special factors at play in Texas may trigger a combination of grief, schadenfreude, and uncertainty.

Already hundreds if not thousands of employers in the state are gearing up for a surge of business in cleanup and repair. Can employers and workers depend on workers’ comp? Well, it depends. The catastrophe struck in the state with the greatest contradictions in how the workers’ comp system is supposed to work.

Are the cleanup and repair workers actually eligible for workers’ comp coverage?

In any other state, in any other year, the simple answer is yes. But in Texas, employers do not need to participate in the workers’ comp system. The opt-out program (technically, its non-subscriber program) covers very many small employers. How they respond to work injuries may be anyone’s guess, including themselves, since being outside workers’ comp means the employer is accountable to no one. Though they are supposed to file an intent to opt-out, the state is lax in enforcing that. The employer can drop off an injured worker at a community hospital and not pay a cent for the worker’s medical care. It need not pay a dime for wage replacement.

The employer can, to be sure, be sued for negligence. But what lawyer is going on a fool’s errand to sue for negligence a dry wall contractor with somewhere between 2 and 10 employees depending on the jobs at hand?

Further, the employer can legally threaten to fire the injured worker, or his co-workers, if anyone threatens to file a suit or so much as complain about having to make up his or her own work injury benefits. Intimidation is legal in opt-out.

Typically, in other states, when workers try to cover their work injury medical bills with their health insurance plan, the plan sends a team to the workers’ comp insurer to recover their medical spending. But Texas in this regard is not typical. Opt-out employers don’t have insurers.

And, Texas has the largest percentage of the population of all 50 states that do not have health insurance. (When almost every other state’s uninsured population plummeted due to Obamacare, Texas’ did not.) A lot of the cost is likely paid by the worker or out of hospital free care.

What about the undocumented workforce?

“Where are those undocumented workers now that we need them?” the construction industry may be asking. It has, according to press reports, grumbled months ago about Trump’s immigration enforcement. A 2013 study by the Workers Defense Project estimated that half of the construction workforce in the state is undocumented. These workers concentrate in low skilled assignments — such as hauling destroyed carpets from flooded homes, clearing out debris and carrying in building materials. In other words, the work created by Harvey.

We can disagree on the wisdom of stepped-up immigration enforcement and on the best long term solutions for the country’s eight million undocumented workers. But consider the facts on the ground. As Voltaire was reputed to have quipped, at 5 PM we are all economists.

Here is the problem: If Homeland Security continues to root out undocumented persons, how are the contractors who depend on them going to hire them? And if hired, in today’s climate of enforcement would an undocumented worker of employer covered by workers’ compensation rationally ever want to file a workers’ compensation claim out of fear of being discovered and deported?

Major disasters find a way to exacerbate unresolved stresses that preceded — in land use, economic relations, public policy. This was the case in the Chicago fire of 1871, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, Katrina, and now with Harvey. Is the state of work injury benefits in Texas a model or a monster?

School students: 23% are from immigrant families

Almost one out of four (23%) public school students in the United States came from an immigrant household in 2015. As recently as 1990 it was 11%, and in 1980 it was just 7%.

Immigrant households are concentrated; just 700 of the 2,351 Census Bureau-designated PUMAs (Public Use Microdata Areas) account for two-thirds of students from immigrant households

In these 700 immigrant-heavy areas, half the students are from immigrant households.

Some of the metropolitan areas where students from immigrant households account for the largest share of enrollment include: San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., 60%; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif., 57%; Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Fla., 54%; McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, 50%; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif., 50%; Yuma, Ariz., 50%; Las Cruces, N.M., 44%; New York-Newark-Jersey City, 44%; Yakima, Wash., 44%; Trenton, N.J., 42%; Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nev., 38%; Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, 37%; Gainesville, Ga., 36%.

Immigration has added enormously to the population of students who speak a foreign language. In 2015, 23% of public school students spoke a language other than English at home. This compares to 14% in 1990 and 9% in 1980.

The impact of immigration varies a great deal across metropolitan statistical areas. In 38 of the nation’s 260 MSAs more than a third of students are from immigrant households, but in 40 of the nation’s MSAs fewer than 5 percent of students are from immigrant households.

From “Mapping the Impact of Immigration on Public Schools


The Raise Act’s point system

Ernie Tedeschi analyzes the RAISE Act, proposed by Republican Senators, in detail, and finds the only 2.1% of current adult American citizens would qualify under its skilled-based entry system just to be considered for permanent residency, much less accepted.

The NY Times presents a tool for grading yourself. I scored 18, well below the 30 point threshold for acceptance. A 40 year old professor, perfectly fluent in English, would have to earn at least $160,000 to get over the threshold.

“Of the 750,000 US citizens who naturalized in 2014 in the ACS, only 20,000 (2.7%) would have qualified under the RAISE Act. It’s important to note that not all 750,000 would have been admitted under employment-based visas: many for example likely came because of family, and some may have gotten visas through the diversity lottery.”

The RAISE Act uses a point system, like Canada and Australia, and sets 30 points as the minimum for a skills-based Green card. It would award only 140,000 of them a year.

Age: 26 – 30 year olds get 10 points, those over 50 get 0

Education: 8 points for a STEM masters, 13 points for a STEM PhD, law degree, or MBA from a US university

English proficiency: You essentially have to speak English well enough to be admitted to an American college (The TOEFL standard). Those scoring in the top 10% of the TOEFL test get 12 points, while those in the bottom half get none.

Income: having a job lined up that pays more than 3x the intended residence state’s median household income gets 13 points; less than 1.5x gets no points.

Extraordinary achievement: 25 points for Nobel Laureates, 15 for recent Olympic athletes

Business investment: 12 points if you invest $1.8 million in a new US business and maintain it for 3 years

Wake up call on immigration policy

Democrats Need an Immigration Policy

Peter Rousmaniere
Published by Valley News, Friday, August 18, 2017

Two Republican Senators have proposed a radical shift in the nation’s immigration policy. The White House recently endorsed their proposal. The Democratic Party must treat this as a wake-up call. It needs a fresh immigration policy of its own.

The RAISE Act of Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue signals further that immigration could be the Trump administration’s political achievement with the most impact.

The administration is, indeed, changing public expectations, with implications for the myriad ways in which immigration in the U.S. operates. More than a set of complicated laws, immigration slowly moves wave-like through job markets, business creation, public school enrollment and many byways of life.

The act’s key features are not new, but similar to recommendations made by the last bipartisan commission on immigration created by President Clinton. These features are a radical shift from family-based immigration to skill-based immigration, including an English language proficiency test, and a 50 percent cut in permanent visas.

To this lifelong liberal, the response so far from the liberal media to the RAISE act relies on old nostrums, with a lack of imagination. The immigration system of today is an accumulation of historical accidents. By defending the status quo, we make ourselves hostage to those accidents.

There are several ingredients in a fresh, forward-looking vision of immigration.

One step is to look inward to our expectations for America’s native-born workers, who account for over 83 percent of our workforce (down from over 90 percent two decades ago). We need to set goals for skills of our native-born workers in an economy that rewards formal skills and punishes the lack of them. We should set the expectation that all native-born Americans should at least complete high school, and that those with only a high school degree should master a trade, which might include a certificate.

We need also to forecast, without fear, our workforce demands for the next several decades. As economists have pointed out, we have hourglass-shaped job growth. The relatively new job of data scientist grows by 50 percent or more annually. The jobs of personal care aide and construction laborer are among the few large-scale occupations growing at more than 1 percent per year, and these mostly do not require a lot of formal education, even a high school degree. Many middle-level jobs, such as the office worker, have been diminished by automation.

We need to agree that immigration policy should be largely a workforce policy that addresses both high and low ends of the hourglass. This brings us to a scary threshold that calls for political leadership. We must puncture some myths about immigration.

One myth is that when the foreigner comes to the United States, she or he expects to stay here permanently. But many circle back home. Another myth is that all immigrants should pass pretty much the same tests for entry. This myth is contradicted daily by the many convoluted side doors that special interests have written into immigration law and its administration. Sustaining these myths has led to widespread distrust of our immigration system.

The reality is that for more than a century, a huge transnational job market exists involving the United States, Mexico and Central America. This job market accounts for the great majority of unauthorized persons in the United States. It also is the labor foundation for agriculture, low-level construction and other jobs where formal education and English language proficiency are unnecessary.

The 1994 North American Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA) did not provide for long-term guest workers in the United States and Canada. Guest worker programs in the United States emit an odor of exploitation and discrimination against native-born workers with low formal education. We need to learn how to create large-scale guest worker programs that respect everyone’s rights.

With regard to refugees and asylum-seekers, the United States as a leading country must set an example of generous policies in an age when national governance and even the continued existence of countries are at risk.

Liberals should resist the temptation to set an overall numerical target for immigration and foreign workers. The number should be able to fluctuate according to a planning process.

And, a liberal vision for immigration needs to respect the concerns of many Americans about the number of unauthorized persons. This does not mean massive deportation. Also, we must respect fears about erosion of civic culture attributed to immigration. This second concern is real, even if misplaced. The concerns are most articulated in communities where the important demographic event in the past few decades is not arrival of low-wage immigrants but the continued collapse of job markets for young native-born Americans.

Liberals, unchain yourselves from the past.


Pro Publica / NPR expose of Florida deportations of injured workers


Florida passed a law in 2003 that made a crime out of misrepresentation by use of a social security number. Almost by definition, any unauthorized person put on a regular payroll is violating that law. The state’s anti-fraud unit has used this law to arrest unauthorized workers injured at work who file workers’ compensation claims.

Trump issued an executive order targeting immigrants who have “engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency.” Very roughly, about 150,000 unauthorized persons sustain a work injury every year.

ProPublica and NPR issued a report today, excerpted:

We analyzed 14 years of state insurance fraud data and thousands of pages of court records. We found nearly 800 cases statewide in which employees were arrested under the law, including at least 130 injured workers. Another 125 workers were arrested after a workplace injury prompted the state to check the personnel records of other employees. Insurers have used the law to deny workers benefits after a litany of serious workplace injuries, from falls off roofs to severe electric shocks. A house painter was rejected after she was impaled on a wooden stake.

Flagged by insurers or their private detectives, state fraud investigators have arrested injured workers at doctors’ appointments and at depositions in their workers’ comp cases. Some were taken into custody with their arms still in slings. At least 1 in 4 of those arrested were subsequently detained by ICE or deported.

State officials defended their enforcement, noting that the workers, injured or not, violated the law and could have caused financial harm if the Social Security numbers they were using belonged to someone else. Moreover, the law requires insurers to report any worker suspected of fraud.

We don’t have the authority or the responsibility to go out and start analyzing the intent of an insurance company or anybody else when they submit a complaint to us,” said Simon Blank, director of the Florida insurance fraud unit. “It would be unfortunate,” he said, if insurers turned in injured workers “just to do away with claims.”

Blank insisted that his investigators’ efforts have nothing to do with immigration. But ProPublica and NPR’s review found that more than 99 percent of the workers arrested under the statute were Hispanic immigrants working with false papers.

In Florida, cases against such workers have become standard practice for a group of closely affiliated insurers and employers. The private investigative firm they employ has created a wall of shame, posting the arrests it’s been involved in on its website. Critics say the arrangement encourages employers to hire unauthorized immigrants, knowing they won’t have to pay for their injuries if they get hurt on the job.

“It’s infuriating to think that when workers are hurt in the United States, they’re essentially discarded,” said David Michaels, the most recent head of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “If employers know that workers are too afraid to apply for workers’ compensation, what’s the incentive to work safely?”

English language skills of low skilled immigrants

The English language proficiency of immigrants has increased, most notably in the past ten or so years. This upward trend is seen in important groups such as Mexicans. But English language proficiency of Mexican immigrants declined in the 1990s. What was the impact of that, and why did it happen? The explanation has to do with demographics of immigrants and job growth in the 1990s.

Researchers looked at the impact on earnings and education when immigrants learn English. English proficiency helps in getting better paying jobs. It also enables the immigrant to obtain more formal education. Another study found that the benefits of English proficiency were primarily in becoming more educated. Young persons with English were more inclined to complete high school.

Demographic trends actually caused English proficiency among low skilled immigrants to decline. In 1990, 80% of individuals from non English-speaking countries said that they spoke English very well. In 2000, 70% said so. The decline is due to the large increase in immigrants, many unauthorized, in the 1990s.

During that decade, an hourglass profile of workers and jobs enlarged. There was a sharp increase in demand for service workers such as food preparation, janitors, gardeners, security guards, housekeeping ,cleaning and laundry workers. These low skilled jobs require limited language skills.

The English language skills of these jobholders declined in the 1990s. On factor in lower English proficiency is that with larger numbers of non-English proficient residents, these individuals were more able to find work that did not require English proficiency. This led to great linguistic and cultural isolation.

One researcher, writing in 2015 (Cassidy) found a large decline in the earnings of childhood immigrants in the U.S. between 1990 and 2010, and in particular during the 1990s. This drop in earnings has occurred across all age at arrival groups, but has disproportionately impacted lower-educated immigrants. A large decline in English language proficiency can explain much of this trend. A concentration of source countries (largely, through not entirely, due to an increase in Mexican immigration) has also contributed, mainly through the negative impacts it has had on English language proficiency and education levels.

See: Language Skills and the Earnings Distribution Among Child Immigrants, by Wang and Wang

The Decline in Earnings of Childhood Immigrants in the U.S., by Cassidy

Immigration a lifeline for Midwestern cities


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs reports that metro areas in the Midwest are aging and are growing much more slowly than the nation as a whole. Midwest metro population rose by only 7% from 2000 to 2015 compared to 14% for the nation.

In the 2000-2015 period immigrant populations in the Midwest rose by 34.5% growth and accounted for 37% of all mid-western metro growth in the last 15 years.

Immigration is responsible for majority of majority of population growth in five metro areas including metro areas of Chicago, Rockford, and Akron. In numerous other metro areas such as Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Minneapolis immigration accounts for at least a quarter of population growth.

Natives in the 35 to 44 age category are in striking decline. The number of native-born age 35 to 44 fell by 1.4 million persons or 24% between 2000 and 2015. An increase of 313,000 immigrants ages 35 to 44 years during the same period helped to offset the extreme native population loss in that category.

American farms hire more Mexicans on temp visas

The Wall Street Journal reports that “Demand in America for Mexican farmhands, landscapers and other temporary workers is surging as the Trump administration moves to curb immigration and renegotiate its trade relationship with Mexico.” The amount of non-skilled temporary visas issued in FY 2017 may exceed the peak reached in 2010, which was about 325,000.

In the first nine months of fiscal 2017, which began Oct. 1, the U.S. Labor Department certified more than 160,000 temporary workers—the bulk of them from Mexico—to harvest berries, tobacco and other crops in the U.S. under the H-2A agricultural visa program. That was up 20% from the period a year earlier.

The annual issuance of H-2A visas nearly doubled from 85,248 in fiscal 2012 to 165,741 in 2016. The U.S. doesn’t cap the number of these visas.

Outside of agriculture, use of another type of seasonal-work visa also has surged in response to increased U.S. demand for unskilled laborers such as hotel housekeepers. The Department of Homeland Security in July raised the annual cap on H-2B visas by more than 20% to 81,000. The majority of workers receiving this type of visa also are from Mexico.

In 2015, farmers in California’s Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, which grow roughly 30% of the strawberries in the U.S., reported $13 million in losses because they lacked enough labor to harvest their crops in a timely manner.

Last year, vegetable farmers in the two counties reported they had 22% fewer workers than needed on average, while berry farmers put the worker shortage at 26%, according to a survey conducted by a local growers association.

Refugees in America, in historical context

The RAISE Act, proposed by Republican senators and endorsed by the White House, would cap annual refugee immigration at 50,000, which is well below the volume of many years. The Obama administration had targeted 110,000. In 2016, the EU set a plan to settled 22,000 refugees over two years. Put these figures in the context that over one million people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere have applied for refugee or asylum status in Europe.

There have been roughly two million refugees or asylees admitted to the U.S. since 1975. The net population growth of the U.S. since then has been 100 million. The vast majority of refugees has come from countries with or over whom the U.S. has been engaged in some form of conflict, such as Russia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Iraq.  

The 1980 Refugee Act established formal criteria and legal statuses for the admission of refugees and migrants of humanitarian concern, including the establishment of an asylum system and the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Per Pew Research, historically, the total number of refugees coming to the U.S. has fluctuated along with global events and U.S. priorities. From 1990 to 1995, an average of about 112,000 refugees arrived in the U.S. each year. Refugee admissions dropped off to fewer than 27,000 in 2002 following the terrorist attacks in 2001.

The U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees in the fiscal year 2016, the most in any year during the Obama administration.  The Obama target was 110,000.

In fiscal 2016, the highest number of refugees from any nation came from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congo accounted for 16,370 refugees followed by Syria (12,587), Burma (aka Myanmar, with 12,347), Iraq (9,880) and Somalia (9,020). Over the past decade, the largest numbers of refugees have come from Burma (159,692) and Iraq (135,643).

Cambodians: Between 1975 and 1994, nearly 158,000 Cambodians were admitted. About 149,000 of them entered the country as refugees, and 6,000 entered as immigrants and 2,500 as humanitarian and public interest parolees

Vietnamese: At the Fall of Saigon, about 125,000 Vietnamese were admitted into the U.S. in 1980 there were 231,000 Vietnamese living in the U.S. Large-scale Vietnamese migration to the United States began as a humanitarian flow after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and, over time, transformed into one of family reunification. By 2014, 1.3 million Vietnamese immigrants resided in the United States representing 3 percent of the nation’s 42.4 million immigrants.

Russian Jews: Emigration of Russian Jews to the U.S. began in the early 1970s, at an annual flow of about 30,000, then dropped to a few thousand a year in the 1980s. The large majority of emigrating Russian Jews went to Isreal. Today there are less than one million persons in the U.S. who are Russian-born or have Russian-born parents or grandparents.


Cut immigration proposals – today and in 1997

American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act was filed by Senators Cotton and Perdue early in 2017 but promoted with White House endorsement only now. The act intends to cut immigration (permanent visas or Green cards) by about half, from one million to 500,000. Its intent and contents are similar to a proposal by a bipartisan task force made 20 years ago

The RAISE Act will trim away family-based immigration, which accounts for over half of new permanent visas today. Up to 140,000 Green cards will be issued using a points system that is tied to potential economic contribution.

The points system will favor persons who speak English. This may appear to favor immigrants from countries with many English speakers, like India, but it probably is more consistent with higher education – that is, Ukrainians and Brazilians who as part of their formal education and perhaps jobs learned English.  Australian and Canada include language proficiency in their points systems today

The Jordan Commission report of 1997

President Clinton appointed the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which took the name of its chairperson, former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. In the Commissions’ last report, issued in 1997, it defined a vision in 90 words:

“Properly-regulated immigration and immigrant policy serves the national interest by ensuring the entry of those who will contribute most to our society and helping lawful newcomers adjust to life in the United States. It must give due consideration to shifting economic realities. A well-regulated system sets priorities for admission; facilitates nuclear family reunification; gives employers access to a global labor market while protecting U.S. workers; helps to generate jobs and economic growth; and fulfills our commitment to resettle refugees as one of several elements of humanitarian protection of the persecuted.”

The commission recommended that permanent residency awards go down by about a third from the prevailing annual level of about 600,000, or to about 400,000.