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MI court advances workers’ compensation lawsuit for undocumented immigrants

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Public Domain

A recent decision by the Michigan Court of Claims is letting a case move forward that could change the access that undocumented immigrants have to workers’ compensation benefits.

Last November, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center challenged a state policy that says employers and insurance companies are not responsible for providing workers' compensation coverage to undocumented people injured on the job.

The state of Michigan responded by filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. But on April 28, the court moved to deny the motion, allowing the case to proceed.

The lawsuit was filed by the Sugar Law Center and the non-profit legal advocacy organization Public Justice on behalf of the immigrant rights group. Diana Marin, attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, signed the complaint for the group.

“We have a chance at really making an argument before the court: Why this interpretation, and what the workers' compensation agency and Michigan have been doing is wrong and needs to be reversed and to be corrected," she said.

The lawsuit challenges the Michigan Court of Appeals’ 2003 decision in Sanchez v. Eagle Alloy, which stated that employers were not required to pay workers' compensation benefits when the employee is unable to obtain work due to imprisonment or commission of a crime. The case involved two undocumented workers who used fake social security numbers to obtain employment. Back in 2003, the court argued the workers were not eligible to receive benefits because they committed a crime by using fake social security numbers to obtain employment.

Marin says federal law does not make it a crime for an undocumented worker to work without authorization.

"When undocumented workers are protected, we all benefit. Ensuring that undocumented people receive their wages when they're injured, would create a dignified, fair and healthy workplace for all," she said.

The state now has 30 days to appeal the court’s decision.

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