Close Close Comment Creative Commons Donate Email Add Email Facebook Instagram Facebook Messenger Mobile Nav Menu Podcast Print RSS Search Secure Twitter WhatsApp YouTube
Stand up for journalism that holds the powerful to account.

Florida Lawmakers to Review Law Targeting Injured Undocumented Workers

Citing an NPR and ProPublica investigation, a top Florida lawmaker and a national insurance fraud group criticized a law used by insurers to turn in injured undocumented workers and avoid paying workers’ comp benefits.

Juvenal Dominguez Quino sprained his knee when a trench collapsed at his construction job. He was arrested for providing a false Social Security number to receive workers’ comp benefits. (Scott McIntyre for ProPublica)

The second-highest ranking member of the Florida Senate pledged a legislative review of a state law that employers and insurance companies are using to have injured undocumented workers arrested and potentially deported to avoid paying them workers’ compensation benefits.

“Legitimate injuries shouldn’t be denied just because the person was an undocumented immigrant,” said Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, the president pro tempore of the state Senate and chair of the Banking and Insurance Committee.

“One needs to balance the going after fraudulent claims,” she said, “with not overcompensating and then denying claims to those individuals who have actually been injured.”

Flores spoke in response to a recent NPR and ProPublica investigation and a subsequent statement by the nation’s largest insurance fraud group, which called on Florida lawmakers to change the law. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud said employers and insurance companies are applying the law in ways that place “the credibility of combating real fraud at risk.”

“Legislators in the Sunshine State need to correct this loophole so workers hurt on the job get the care they need,” said Dennis Jay, executive director of the coalition, which is made up of insurance companies, government agencies, consumer organizations and insurance fraud investigators.

“I just see the credibility of the anti-fraud effort being hurt by such practices,” Jay said in an interview.

NPR and ProPublica found that nearly 800 undocumented workers in Florida have been charged with workers’ comp fraud for using illicit Social Security numbers to either get their jobs, file for workers’ compensation benefits or both. More than 560 didn’t actually file workers’ comp claims but still were charged with fraud. Another 130 suffered legitimate workplace injuries but were denied benefits and prosecuted. Some were detained by federal immigration authorities and deported.

Like most states, Florida provides workers’ comp benefits to undocumented workers despite their legal status. The state’s workers’ comp law was amended in 2003 to make the use of false identification in obtaining jobs and workers’ comp benefits a felony.

“I don’t see how they can legally justify that,” Jay said. “It also paints insurers as uncaring, greedy corporations that allow human suffering to make a buck.”

Some of the insurance companies who have used the Florida law to deny claims are members of Jay’s coalition, as is the state agency that administers the law.

Jon Moore, spokesman for the Florida Division of Investigative and Forensic Services, said his agency is “obligated to enforce the law as it relates to the workers’ compensation system in Florida.” But he said, “another look into the questions that are being posed may be warranted. What is the balance between the harm and the benefits that are being produced?”

Flores said she is especially concerned about companies who may hire undocumented workers knowing that the threat of prosecution and deportation may keep them from pursuing workers’ comp claims if they are injured at work.

‘That’s borderline unconscionable,” Flores said, adding that she’ll seek the legislature’s review of this use of Florida law as part of a planned broader look at the state’s workers’ compensation law.

John Porreca, the owner of SouthEast Personnel Leasing and subsidiaries Lion Insurance and Packard Claims, did not respond to a request for comment. Porreca’s companies were featured in NPR and ProPublica’s story and turned in far more injured workers than any others.

Steve Cassell, the president of Command Investigations, which investigates the backgrounds of undocumented workers for insurers and features a gallery of injured workers on its website, also did not respond.

Brian Carter, a Florida workers’ comp attorney, welcomed the call for changes to the Florida law. He says undocumented workers use illicit Social Security numbers because they can’t get jobs without them and employers in Florida need those workers.

“It is illogical to legislatively provide workers’ compensation benefits to undocumented workers,” Carter said, “and then legislatively make it criminal to use a false Social Security number for identification.” 

Jay added that his group is already engaging Florida lawmakers and will offer assistance in drafting alternative legislation.

Filed under:

Protect Independent Journalism

This story you’ve just finished was funded by our readers. We hope it inspires you to make a gift to ProPublica so that we can publish more investigations like this one that hold people in power to account and produce real change.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that produces nonpartisan, evidence-based journalism to expose injustice, corruption and wrongdoing. We were founded over 10 years ago to fill a growing hole in journalism: Newsrooms were (and still are) shrinking, and legacy funding models are failing. Deep-dive reporting like ours is slow and expensive, and investigative journalism is a luxury in many newsrooms today — but it remains as critical as ever to democracy and our civic life. More than a decade (and six Pulitzer Prizes) later, ProPublica has built one of the largest investigative newsrooms in the country. Our work has spurred reform through legislation, at the voting booth and inside our nation’s most important institutions.

Your donation today will help us ensure that we can continue this critical work. From the climate crisis, to racial justice, to wealth inequality and much more, we are busier than ever covering stories you won’t see anywhere else. Make your gift of any amount today and join the tens of thousands of ProPublicans across the country, standing up for the power of independent journalism to produce real, lasting change. Thank you.

Donate Now

Portrait of Michael Grabell

Michael Grabell

Michael Grabell writes about economic issues, labor, immigration and trade. He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Latest Stories from ProPublica

Current site Current page