Federal immigration law does not bar PTD award to undocumented alien
Case name: Economy Packing Co. v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, No. 1-07-2947WC (Ill. App. Ct. 12/09/08, unpublished).
Ruling: The Illinois Appellate Court upheld an award of temporary total disability and permanent total disability benefits to an undocumented alien, concluding that such awards are not preempted by federal immigration law.
What it means: The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 does not prevent the Workers' Compensation Commission from awarding PTD benefits to an undocumented alien. As a result, employers in Illinois cannot deny PTD benefits to undocumented aliens on the basis that their immigration status would prevent them from working legally in the United States. An undocumented alien may establish that she is PTD under the "odd-lot doctrine" by showing that her unemployability is not based on her immigration status.
Summary: In 1992, the claimant, who was born in Mexico, began working for the employer on an assembly line manually deboning chickens. She slipped and fell at work in 2002, injuring her head, shoulder, hip, and buttocks. An arbitrator awarded her TTD benefits of $147 per week for 60 weeks and PTD benefits of $371 per week for life. The arbitrator also ruled that the claimant was an "odd-lot" worker, stating that the claimant's "age, lack of education, lack of transferable skills, inability to speak English and physical restrictions render her unfit to perform any but the most menial task for which no stable labor market exists." The commission and trial court upheld the award.
On appeal, the employer argued that a different standard should be applied when determining whether suitable employment is available to an undocumented alien. It stated that because employers are barred by IRCA from hiring undocumented aliens regardless of their physical capabilities, the aliens are always unemployable. Accordingly, before an undocumented alien can receive PTD benefits under the odd-lot doctrine, the employer contended that she must establish not only that her age, training, education, and experience render her unemployable, but that she is unemployable "in a country where she is legally entitled to work."
The Appellate Court rejected the employer's argument and upheld the award. It found that although federal immigration law prevented the claimant from legally working in the United States, she would have been able to work elsewhere but for the work-related injury. It highlighted the fact that neither of the vocational experts considered the claimant's immigration status when giving their opinions regarding her ability to work.
February 5, 2009
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