Lawmakers in the U.S. are pushing for a new bill aimed at curbing undocumented workers' exploitation by employers and insurance companies.
An investigation by NPR and ProPublica found out that over 560 undocumented workers in Florida who had not even filed for workers' compensation claims were charged with fraud and nearly 130 of the workers' who suffered legitimate workplace injuries were flagged by the companies' insurers to the law enforcement agencies, many of whom were charged for using fake social security IDs for gaining access to healthcare.
Many of these workers are employed in high-risk businesses, such as construction and landscaping, and when they file for injury claims, often the insurers flag them based on their immigration status.
"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," Simon Blank, director of the Florida insurance fraud unit, told NPR. "It would be unfortunate," he said, if insurers turned in injured workers "just to do away with claims."
An estimated eight million undocumented workers were recorded working in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center, and for years, employers have offered workers' compensation to their employees who have no paperwork.
Florida's workers' compensation fraud laws, which were earlier used to favor undocumented workers, are now being flouted. That's because of a loophole introduced in 2003 in the law wherein the employer along with insurers can exploit undocumented workers by not offering them any compensation for injuries incurred at work and can even have them arrested, according to the Naples Daily News.
Dennis Jay, executive director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud — a conglomeration of insurance organizations, consumers, government agencies and legislative bodies working to enact anti-fraud legislation — told ProPublica that some employers are bending the glitch in the law to suit them, placing "the credibility of combating real fraud at risk."
"Legitimate injuries shouldn’t be denied just because the person was an undocumented immigrant," Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, the president pro tempore of the state Senate and chair of the Banking and Insurance Committee, told ProPublica.
U.S. President Donald Trump's first executive order, which broadened the definition of who can be arrested, further strengthened the stringent measures taken by employers. Trump broadened the definition by not only including those who are convicted of or charged with a felony, but also any immigrant suspected of one.
Rich Templin, the legislative and political director for Florida AFL-CIO, pointed out the hurdles the bill which hasn't garnered much attention would face in passing. Many of the insurers in Florida are either tied to the state business associations or are independent.
"When you have something brought to light that is as egregious as this, that Republicans have said is wrong, that representatives from the insurance industry have said is wrong," he told ProPublica. "This seems like a no-brainer as something that has to be done right away."