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Immigration Reform and Workers’ Compensation

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It is a tumultuous time for immigrants and immigration rights, both in California and throughout the country. One pressing question surrounding immigration reform is, “How will it impact workers’ compensation?” As an immigrant working in California, you need to know the details of the current and potential future laws to protect your rights. Work with an attorney for more in-depth information. In the meantime, here’s an overview of what you need to know.

Immigrant Worker Protections in California

Estimates place the number of undocumented immigrants in California at around 2.6 million. Undocumented immigrants make up approximately 10% of the state’s workforce. In the past, California courtrooms have ruled that undocumented immigrants are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits regardless of their immigration status. New, stricter immigration laws and California’s status as a sanctuary state, however, can make workers’ compensation issues even more complicated.

California has laws that protect immigrant workers’ rights, outlined by the state Department of Industrial Relations. These laws give all workers rights to benefits in case of injuries on the job, regardless of legal status or where the worker was born. Once an employer hires the worker, the worker immediately has the right to workers’ compensation, meal breaks, minimum wages, overtime pay, and other benefits. It does not matter whether or not the worker is a legal citizen. The employer has the duty to provide workers’ compensation and benefits for medical care after work-related injury or illness.

California’s Stance as a Sanctuary State

Statewide immigrant worker rights and laws can help employees feel more confident in filing workers’ compensation claims. Unfortunately, filing a claim could still spell trouble for undocumented workers. Claiming workers’ compensation benefits using a false identity could put the immigration status of a worker at risk – resulting in felony fraud charges and possible deportation. Cases from other states, including Florida and Massachusetts, have arisen in which ICE detained injured immigrant workers after they submitted their claims.

California is unique in that is has taken a stance against the Trump administration’s policies on undocumented immigrants. The state’s Sanctuary State law (Senate Bill 54) legalizes statewide non-cooperation policies, in which California law enforcement officers do not have to comply with federal immigration measures or authorities. The bill prohibits state law enforcement from detaining illegal aliens on the basis of federal laws (unless convicted of certain crimes). It also prohibits officers from asking people about their immigration status and from sharing information with federal immigration services.

Thanks to California’s Sanctuary State Law, employers cannot report undocumented employees to federal ICE officers unless federal law requires that they do so. Employers also cannot permit ICE agents to enter private areas or to access employee records without a warrant or subpoena. Violating these rules could result in a $10,000 fine for employers. These rules give undocumented immigrants a certain degree of safety when filing workers’ compensation claims.

Problems Undocumented Immigrants Still Face

Despite California’s unique protections for injured undocumented immigrants, these workers may face a new kind of threat – surprise raids by ICE. ICE has been conducting raids of workplaces in California suspected of employing undocumented immigrants, including 7-Eleven stores and companies in Northern California. The federal government has initiated the raids in response to the state’s Sanctuary State law.

Get help from a trusted personal injury attorney if you need to file a workers’ compensation claim as an undocumented immigrant in California. An attorney is legally bound to act in your best interests. A lawyer can assist you with your claim, teach you your rights under workers’ compensation statutes, and help you go up against unlawful immigrant reporting or discrimination. You have the right to workers’ compensation as an immigrant. Exercise this right with an attorney’s help.