Our immigration policy in this nation is a complete disaster. It wasn't always so.
There was a time in the United States when we welcomed those wanting to build a better life for themselves and their family. However, we controlled that process. There were legal mechanisms allowing their entrance. We monitored the gates, screening for disease and other issues (think Ellis Island). And the immigrants coming here were anxious to both assimilate into their new culture and work hard for a better life. They learned the language and traditions of the land.
Today the legal mechanisms for proper entry barely exist. The borders are extraordinarily porous, and the government's handling of the issue is beyond dysfunctional. Today we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis of our own creation along our southern border, as thousands of people, many of them children, or pretending to be children, stream across. And the people coming here seem to want us to accommodate their culture. It feels as though we have lost all control over the situation.
It is that feeling of crisis that produces kneejerk reactions in other quarters of our society. One such example is North Carolina's HB 369. That proposed bill says any worker not lawfully employable in the United States will not get compensation for occupational injury or disease. As long as the employer believed they were allowed to be in the country legally when hired, they will not get workers' comp if injured on the job.
It is a backwater idea that simply masks a symptom while aggravating other conditions. Denying these people medical treatment through workers' comp will only make them more desirable in less ethical corners of the employment world. And with all the concern about illegals coming here to “live for free off of our generous government benefits”, why in the world would we wish to punish those who chose to work? Even our criminals in prison are provided medical care. It seems ridiculous we would deny that to people based on a legal status that is virtually ignored elsewhere (like by our federal government).
Of course, many of these people would ultimately get care. They will wind up in taxpayer supported emergency rooms and medical clinics. The burden for their care won't be removed; no, it will simply be moved from those who would traditionally hold responsibility for it. I should also mention that our federal government would likely dole out benefits to these same people should their untreated injury prevent them from returning to a paying position.
Does that make any sense at all?
I am not saying we don't have a battle on our hands. No, it is just that workers' compensation is the wrong place to wage it. For over 100 years employees working for the benefit of employers have had the assurance of basic humanitarian protections. Offering medical care should be a no-brainer; the question of indemnity and settlements in these situations are admittedly much more difficult to tackle. We cannot lose sight of the fact that this issue is all due to a bigger unaddressed problem. Don't sully our industry by making it a pawn in a larger war, especially when the primary players in that war appear to have no interest in taking part in it.
North Carolina, I understand the frustration, but HB 369 is the wrong solution. Workers' compensation is not and never will be an immigration control device. The answer to your problem is to send the right people to Washington who have the balls to deal with the issue.
Now if we could just figure out who those people are. Personally, I'm stumped.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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