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Abolish ICE: Workplace Safety Edition


ICE is a government stormtrooper force engaging in ethnic cleansing. It’s employees should be publicly exposed and shamed. Many of them are fascists and the rest should resign to separate themselves from that fascism. ICE should be abolished entirely and we need to start over, with the first question investigated about potential immigration agents being their opinions about race. We need some kind of immigration agency, but it must be purged of racism. I believe this more every day, with continued stories over the ethnic cleansing going on around the nation. That insurance companies are able to turn over undocumented people in order to avoid paying workplace compensation after the workers get hurt is despicable beyond words I can express.

At age 31, Nixon Arias cut a profile similar to many unauthorized immigrants in the United States. A native of Honduras, he’d been in the country for more than a decade and had worked off and on for a landscaping company for nine years. The money he earned went to building a future for his family in Pensacola, Florida. His Facebook page was filled with photos of fishing and other moments with his three boys, ages 3, 7 and 8.

But in November 2013, that life began to unravel.

The previous year, Arias had been mowing the median of Highway 59 just over the Alabama line when his riding lawnmower hit a hole, throwing him into the air. He slammed back in his seat, landing hard on his lower back.

Arias received pain medication, physical therapy and steroid injections through his employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. But the pain in his back made even walking or sitting a struggle. So his doctor recommended an expensive surgery to implant a device that sends electrical pulses to the spinal cord to relieve chronic pain. Six days after that appointment, the insurance company suddenly discovered that Arias had been using a deceased man’s Social Security number and rejected not only the surgery, but all of his past and future care.

Desperate, Arias hired an attorney to help him pursue the injury benefits that Florida law says all employees, including unauthorized immigrants, are entitled to receive. Then one morning after he dropped two of his boys off at school, Arias was pulled over and arrested, while his toddler watched from his car seat.

Arias was charged with using a false Social Security number to get a job and to file for workers’ comp. The state insurance fraud unit had been tipped off by a private investigator hired by his employer’s insurance company.

With his back still in pain from three herniated or damaged discs, Arias spent a year and a half in jail and immigration detention before he was deported.

However people feel about immigration, judges and lawmakers nationwide have long acknowledged that the employment of unauthorized workers is a reality of the American economy. From nailing shingles on roofs to cleaning hotel rooms, some 8 million immigrants work with false or no papers nationwide, and studies show they’re more likely to get hurt or killed on the job than other workers. So over the years, nearly all 50 states, including Florida, have given these workers the right to receive workers’ comp.

But in 2003, Florida’s lawmakers added a catch, making it a crime to file a workers’ comp claim using false identification. Since then, insurers have avoided paying for injured immigrant workers’ lost wages and medical care by repeatedly turning them in to the state.

Of course, the evil is concentrated in a few people.

Since 2013, nearly 75 percent of the injured immigrants arrested in Florida for using false IDs were turned in by Command — and half worked for SouthEast, ProPublica and NPR found. SouthEast has had 43 injured workers arrested for using false Social Security numbers — more than any other company.

One reason: SouthEast, as well as its insurance carrier, Lion, and its claims processor, Packard Claims, are all owned by the same person. The unusual arrangement gives the company more control over injury claims and a consistency other firms specializing in high-risk industries can’t provide. But critics say it benefits SouthEast in more pernicious ways: Knowing that Lion and Packard can deny the claims of unauthorized workers allows SouthEast to offer discounts to contractors that other leasing firms can’t.

“They sign up these companies knowing full well that 95 percent of the employees are immigrant workers,” said Cora Cisneros Molloy, who recently began representing injured workers after two decades defending employers and insurers. “Only after an accident occurred do they determine they’re going to do an investigation and check that Social Security number.”

It gets better:

The sting had been meticulously planned for weeks. The day before, detectives had scoped out the site — a two-story office building resembling a Spanish colonial mansion near downtown Fort Myers. Before the arrest, they tucked out of sight to surveil the building’s back entrance from across the street, according to the detective’s case report.

The time and manpower wasn’t to nab a gang member or drug dealer, but a coordinated effort with Command to snare a 27-year-old roofer who was at a court reporter’s office to testify in a deposition for his workers’ comp case. A year earlier in 2014, Erik Martinez was working on a roof when a nail ricocheted and hit him in the left eye. He was seeking medical care and lost wages, but like many construction workers, he was using a false Social Security number.

Though it was ostensibly a Florida Department of Financial Services operation, a state detective had worked closely with an attorney for Lion on a plan to alert officers in the final minutes of the deposition. In between questions, the attorney emailed the detective, at one point providing a description of Martinez’s clothing.

“We moved our position to the back parking lot,” the detective wrote in his report, “where we awaited word that the deposition was nearing an end.” Upon receiving confirmation, the detectives moved in, arresting Martinez as he exited the office.

Despite the extensive effort, the state attorney declined to prosecute. But the detective’s narrative reveals a larger story: In most of the injury cases reviewed by ProPublica and NPR, state fraud detectives were handed a packet from private investigators with nearly all the information needed to make an arrest.

This is absolutely reprehensible. It’s also entirely legal. The entire immigration system is broken. The people migrating here for work and to escape violence have done nothing wrong except make a better life for themselves. Employers know they can hire them and face no consequences should they want to get rid of these people. This is not only racist and immoral, it’s also part and parcel of a larger movement by employers to use up workers and throw them away, whether immigrants or native-born, documented or undocumented.

Again, we need an entirely new immigration structure. We need a new workplace safety structure as well.

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