Last Thursday this site ran the first in a series of articles looking at how different states workers' compensation systems handle injured workers' who are not legally able to accept employment in the United States. The series, headlined “Undocumented and Unprotected?”, started with a look at California's fairly liberal laws that provide specific protections for workers' there illegally.
My initial reaction, when the series was brought before me, however, was surrounding our use of the word “undocumented” to describe these workers.
It is a debate that has raged far beyond the limited reach of these digital pages. There is a loud and vociferous politically correct voice that condemns any inference of illegality towards people who are not here legally (read that again, and ponder it for a moment). They absolutely insist on the use of “undocumented workers” when discussing this topic.
The debate extended to our journalists as well. Our editor and writers debated the semantics prior to publication, and opted for the politically correct version for professional reasons. One of our writers working on an upcoming piece actually had a large national organization refuse to answer their question and terminated the call because they used the phrase “illegal immigrants” in their introduction. The woman on the phone curtly informed them that the proper term was “undocumented workers”, and she would not respond to someone who did not know how to properly address the issue. Then she hung up.
It is a ridiculous response beyond reason, in my view.
People of this mindset refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing or violation of the law when it comes to this topic. They tell you that “people cannot be illegal”. Really? Well the actions they take certainly can be.
Allow me to let you in on a little secret. Just because you do not agree with a law doesn't mean it is no longer a law. If you cross a border without permission, in violation of our laws, you have committed an illegal act, and by sheer definition are here illegally. If you apply for a job under an assumed name and use a social security number that is not yours, you have committed fraud; which last time I checked was an illegal act. People themselves may not be capable of being “illegal”, but their presence here and acceptance of employment under false pretenses most certainly is.
I think the writer of our first article in the series, Phil Yacuboski, did an excellent job of laying the issue out as it stands in California. I must admit, however, to experiencing bemusement at one of the quotes in the article. The source, who was lamenting that a workplace injury often results in the illegally employed losing their job, said, “The employer can use the employee's undocumented status against them and not have to give them their job back.”
Uh. Yeah. That is the illegal part I referred to earlier. Once exposed as illegal, they become toxic for the employer. The article does reference the massive fines employers can receive for employing illegal workers. That kinda matters.
Labor advocates argue that employers will use a workers' comp claim to retaliate against an injured worker who is working illegally by turning them into ICE or local law authorities, resulting in deportation. I am not so sure that employers would be so willing to avail themselves of that opportunity. It is, after all, illegal for the employer to have hired these workers in the first place, and I am somewhat doubtful that employers will willingly expose themselves to that kind of liability. I am sure the person who made the previously referenced quote is right; once a worker is exposed as being illegal, then the employer will not, indeed, cannot, give them their job back.
One thing in that article I absolutely agree with; many of our immigration problems are based on an inefficient and dysfunctional immigration system. I am by no means an anti-immigrant guy. This nation was built on the strength of attracting the best and brightest in the world, and I don't believe that gateway should be closed. Still, there should be standards and procedures that assure our security and manage the process properly.
I also am not one of those people who believe a worker who is injured while working illegally should be denied benefits. If the employer has had the benefit of their labor, we should still treat their injuries. We should stick with the deal. Admittedly that may be tougher in some parts of the world if they get deported, but being illegal should not be a basis for denying their benefits, especially medical.
For many of us, the political correctness crowd appears to have completely lost control of themselves, particularly of late. I suspect the vast silent majority would agree with me that semantic issues are not the most pressing ones of the day we currently face. As for immigration issues, you can call it whatever you want. Acts that break the law are still illegal, whether you are intellectually honest enough to admit it or not.
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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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