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Why Do Illegal Aliens Get Workers Comp in Arizona?

O.K., I live in Arizona – we don’t have the best reputation for tolerance, love, and racial harmony.  Well then why does our legislature cover illegal aliens injured on the job?  The answers are many and very complex. 

First, you must understand a little history of Arizona Workers Compensation.  Before 1961, an employee who was injured as a result of his employer’s negligence was able to sue the employer in a Tort Personal Injury suit.  In 1961, the Arizona Work Comp Act was changed to give employers immunity from these suits – it limited an injured worker’s remedy to the Workers Compensation system.  Personal injury claims are usually much more lucrative than workers compensation claims.  (Why then do I do workers compensation law and not personal injury law???) 

The legislature knows that if undocumented workers were taken outside of the Arizona workers compensation system, they would have the right to sue their employers in tort, thus exposing Arizona employers to significantly higher claims for their workers’ injuries.  Some of my more cruel nativist friends might ask, well then we’ll just pass a law that makes it impossible for them to sue!!!  Not so fast – that right is guaranteed by the Federal government and the Constitution.  This protection from Tort lawsuits for employers is the first reason that undocumented aliens can get Arizona workers compensation benefits. 

Another important policy reason is that if illegal aliens weren’t covered, it would give unscrupulous employers a perverse incentive to hire MORE illegal workers – since they would know that these workers couldn’t file claims against them and would keep their work comp costs down.  This would take jobs away from legal workers.  These same employers also wouldn’t have incentives to maintain safe workplaces if they hired workers who couldn’t file claims. 

The final policy reason that the legislature has considered is that covering ALL injured workers keeps the costs of workplace accidents where they should be:  on the industries that employ the workers and profit from their labor.  Otherwise, the costs of treating these workers would be passed off to hospitals, private insurance, and public benefits. 

Every year, extremists in the legislature (Russell Pearce) try to change this portion of the statute.  The fact that all of the insurance companies, major employers, and medical groups oppose them doesn’t matter.  Little do they realize that there are many good reasons for covering all workers injured on the job in Arizona. If you or anyone you know has questions about illegal alien workers’ compensation in Arizona, contact our lawyer group at Snow, Carpio, and Weekley.