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?”

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