A decision by the Iowa Supreme Court issued last Friday, affirming the award of healing benefits to illegal aliens (Yes, I still use that politically incorrect term), highlights the many issues we face on this particular topic. In the case Jimenez vs. Staff Management, the court upheld a lower courts decision that benefits should be paid for the time she was off work, but reversed and remanded a decision that she be paid benefits while working.

Pascuala Jimenez came to the United States in 1991 legally, on a work visa that was valid for 10 years. It was not renewed, but she remained in the country, where she worked at a Proctor and Gamble facility through a staffing company, Staff Management. She had been employed by Staff Management since 2001. Accounts indicate she was a capable and well respected employee. 

The “high level overview” of this case, without the details to provide the reasoning behind the actions, is troubling. It is essentially this: In August 2007 “Staff Management received notice from its central office stating that Jimenez's name and social security number did not match with the Social Security Administration's records.” She was notified “3 times” that she needed to provide appropriate documentation to remain employed. 5 weeks later, she injured herself on the job, suffering a hernia and requiring surgical intervention. In late December she returned to work, and in January 2008 she was terminated. The company maintains the termination was due to her failure to provide documentation, and not the workers' compensation claim she filed. 

Jimenez maintains that Staff Management knew she was not legally authorized to work the entire time, and that the termination was retaliatory. 

You can read the whole sordid 34 page ordeal here

There are many potential issues at play here. The timing of the injury and claim is interesting, to say the least, especially if you realize this was not her first time at the hernia rodeo. Records indicate she had one in 1995. I also think the timing of the “documentation purge” (10 people were apparently let go at the same time) was unfortunate. And also, what of Jimenez' claim that her employer knew for many years she was not legal? We have to ask, what did some of her managers know, and when did they know it? 

Staff Management apparently joined the E-Verify program as a charter member in 2006. It was a corporate notification in August of the following year that started the request for proper documentation. There is no indication or evidence that they did not follow proper procedures and employment law in their processes. Still, this story highlights the vulnerability of employers as they navigate the minefield that is the undocumented worker debacle in this country.

I am not “anti-immigration”. I believe this country was built by openly accepting people from many cultures and backgrounds, all who shared one thing in common; they believed that coming here afforded them the opportunity to work hard and succeed – to make a better life for them and their families. We've made that dream virtually impossible for those who wish to do so legally today. We've also left a gaping hole along our border that has allowed many to defy our laws and come here regardless. 

I do not support any amnesty for illegal aliens, nor do I endorse “fast track to citizenship” proposals for these residents. Still, I recognize that we have a huge problem, and a completely dysfunctional immigration policy is exposing employers to tremendous risk. We need a complete overhaul of our immigration laws; one that will afford the American dream for those willing to work while protecting the job creators of the land.

In this case, Staff Management used Jimenez' illegal status as a defense against paying benefits in her workers' compensation claim, although they apparently introduced that strategy late in the process. I don't agree with that approach. To me that is like trying to drop anchor on the Titanic after you've hit the iceberg. No, regardless of legal status, if employers have had the benefit of an employee's labor, those laborers likely should not be denied the benefits the grand comprise provided. After all, that argument is simply a symptom of a much greater problem. 

It is a problem that will not be easily fixed until our immigration policies once again align with the social and ethical mores of our nation.

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