How insurance companies use a Florida law to get undocumented immigrants arrested and deported when they’re injured on the job

undocumented immigrant injured on job
Yuliana Rocha Zamarripa hurt her knee at work, an investigator
working for her employer’s insurance carrier reported her for
using a false Social Security number.

McIntyre for ProPublica

This story was co-published with NPR.

Leer en español.

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

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’

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

Workers like Arias have been charged with felony workers’ comp
fraud even though their injuries are real and happened on the
job. And in a challenging twist of logic, immigrants can be
charged with workers’ comp fraud even if they’ve never been
injured or filed a claim because legislators also made it illegal
to use a fake ID to get a job. In many cases, the state’s
insurance fraud unit has conducted unusual sweeps of worksites,
arresting a dozen employees for workers’ comp fraud after merely
checking their Social Security numbers.

What’s quietly been happening to workers in Florida, unnoticed
even by immigrant advocates, could be a harbinger of the future
as immigration enforcement expands under President Donald Trump.

One of Trump’s first executive orders broadened Immigration
and Customs Enforcement’s priorities to include not just those
convicted of or charged with a crime, but any immigrant suspected
of one. The order also targets anyone who has “engaged in fraud
or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official
matter or application before a governmental agency.” That
language could sweep in countless injured unauthorized workers
because state workers’ comp bureaus and medical facilities
typically request Social Security numbers as part of the claims

In the last few months, a Massachusetts construction worker who
fractured his femur when he fell from a ladder was detained by ICE shortly after meeting with his
boss to discuss getting help for his injury. In Ohio, Republican
lawmakers pushed a bill that would have barred undocumented
immigrants from getting workers’ comp. It passed the state’s
House of Representatives before stalling in the Senate in June.

To assess the impact of Florida’s law on undocumented workers,
ProPublica and NPR analyzed 14 years of state insurance fraud
data and thousands of pages of court records. We found nearly 800
cases statewide in which employees were arrested under the law,
including at least 130 injured workers. Another 125 workers were
arrested after a workplace injury prompted the state to check the
personnel records of other employees. Insurers have used the law
to deny workers benefits after a litany of serious workplace
injuries, from falls off roofs to severe electric shocks. A house
painter was rejected after she was impaled on a wooden stake.

Flagged by insurers or their private detectives, state fraud
investigators have arrested injured workers at doctors’
appointments and at depositions in their workers’ comp cases.
Some were taken into custody with their arms still in slings. At
least 1 in 4 of those arrested were subsequently detained by ICE
or deported.

State officials defended their enforcement, noting that the
workers, injured or not, violated the law and could have caused
financial harm if the Social Security numbers they were using
belonged to someone else. Moreover, the law requires insurers to
report any worker suspected of fraud.

“We don’t have the authority or the responsibility to go out and
start analyzing the intent of an insurance company or anybody
else when they submit a complaint to us,” said Simon Blank,
director of the Florida insurance fraud unit. “It would be
unfortunate,” he said, if insurers turned in injured workers
“just to do away with claims.”

Blank insisted that his investigators’ efforts have nothing to do
with immigration. But ProPublica and NPR’s review found that more
than 99 percent of the workers arrested under the statute were
Hispanic immigrants working with false papers.

While Florida’s statute is unique, insurers, hardline
conservatives and some large employers have been battling across
the country for the past 15 years to deny injury benefits to
unauthorized immigrants, with occasional success. In a little-noticed rulinglast fall, an international
human rights commission criticized the United States for
violating the rights of unauthorized immigrants, including a
Pennsylvania apple picker who was forced to settle his case for a
fraction of the cost of his injury and a Kansas painter who was
unable to get the cast removed from his broken hand until he was
deported to Mexico.

In Florida, cases against such workers have become standard
practice for a group of closely affiliated insurers and
employers. The private investigative firm they employ has created
a wall of shame, posting the arrests it’s been
involved in on its website. Critics say the arrangement
encourages employers to hire unauthorized immigrants, knowing
they won’t have to pay for their injuries if they get hurt on the

“It’s infuriating to think that when workers are hurt in the
United States, they’re essentially discarded,” said David
Michaels, the most recent head of the federal Occupational Safety
and Health Administration. “If employers know that workers are
too afraid to apply for workers’ compensation, what’s the
incentive to work safely?”

The law’s real-life ramifications came as a surprise to one of
the lawyers who helped draft it and who had no idea it had been
used to charge hundreds of workers who’d never been hurt on the

“How is there insurance fraud if there’s no comp claim?” asked
Mary Ann Stiles, a longtime business lobbyist and attorney for
insurers. “That would not be what anybody intended it to be.”

In Arias’ case, records show he never wrote the false Social
Security number on any of the various forms related to his claim.
It was printed automatically by the insurance carrier, using
information from his employer. But that didn’t stop the state
attorney from charging him with 42 counts of insurance fraud —
one for every form the number appeared on.

As part of the prosecution, investigators demanded Arias pay back
$38,490.51 to Normandy Harbor Insurance for the medical care and
benefits checks he’d already received for his injury. The insurer
declined to comment. Back in Honduras, Arias, who struggles with
chronic back pain, has been unable to find more than odd jobs.
And he hasn’t seen his three U.S.-born sons in more than two

The whole time in detention, “I was always asking, ‘Why? What’s
the reason I’m here? I haven’t done anything, I haven’t stolen
anything, I haven’t killed anyone,’” Arias said by phone from his
rural village in the state of Copán. “I was just working for my

The website of
Command Investigations, located just outside Orlando, boasts of
its success in hunting down workers’ comp fraud, posting like
trophies a gallery of mugshotsof mostly Hispanic men and
women. But most of those pictured weren’t nabbed jet-skiing with
a fake knee injury. They are legitimately injured workers who
Command investigators caught using false Social Security numbers.

Command, which tipped the state off to Arias, opened up shop in
2012 and quickly rose to prominence in Florida by catering to the
lucrative employee leasing industry. Unlike temp agencies, which
find workers and task them to businesses, employee leasing
companies promise to lower businesses’ overhead by hiring their
employees on paper and then leasing them back. The basic premise
is that by pooling the risk of several small businesses, leasing
companies can bargain for better insurance rates. Such a setup is
especially attractive to mom-and-pop firms in dangerous
industries, such as construction.

One of Command’s first big clients was Lion
Insurance, whose affiliate SouthEast Personnel Leasing serves as the
employer of record for more than 200,000 employees nationwide. According to its
website, SouthEast generates $2.3 billion in annual revenue —
about as much asclothing retailer J. Crew or the
restaurant chain Red Lobster.

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.”

Controlling the empire from a six-story office building
surrounded by palm trees in Holiday, Florida, is John Porreca,
68, who grew up in Philadelphia and worked in the leasing
business before buying SouthEast with his wife in 1995. Despite
owning one of the largest private companies in Florida, Porreca
has managed to stay out of the public eye, showing up in the
local press only rarely, such as when he donated the money for a
baseball field for disabled children or bought a $4 million
beachfront mansion, the size of which rankled neighbors.

Porreca didn’t respond to multiple messages left at his office or
home over the course of a month. In an email, Brian Evans, an
attorney for SouthEast, said Porreca declined to comment other
than to say that SouthEast “strictly adheres” to the law and is
not responsible for what happened to its workers, even though the
company’s investigators reported them to the state.

Command’s president Steve Cassell also declined interview
requests, citing confidentiality agreements with his clients.

Bram Gechtman, a Miami attorney who has represented several
injured SouthEast workers, said the sheer number of cases in
which Lion and Packard discovered workers’ false IDs only after
they were injured raises the question of why SouthEast doesn’t do
more to screen its hires.

“If I had a situation where I had all these people defrauding my
company over and over and over again, allegedly, I would do
something to try to stop it,” he said, “unless there was another
reason why I didn’t want it to stop.”

Command and SouthEast have recently expanded to other states.
Last year, a woman in Georgia was arrested for identity theft
after a cart ran over her foot at a meatpacking plant and Command
turned her in to the state workers’ comp bureau. In California,
two staffing agencies sued SouthEast, saying its claims processor
routinely denied workers’ comp claims based on immigration
status, leading to litigation that increased the cost of the

For workers, welcomed without question until they get hurt,
getting caught in Command and SouthEast’s dragnet can upend
otherwise quiet lives. Berneth Javier Castro originally came to
the United States on a tourist visa in 2005 searching for the
woman he’d loved and lost during the war in Nicaragua in the

Screen Shot 2017 08 17 at 2.02.13 PM
Escobar lives outside Miami, but her husband is now in Nicaragua
after he was injured in a roofing accident and an insurance
investigator reported him to the state, setting off immigration

McIntyre for ProPublica

Unable to find her and facing debts back home for his house and
his daughter’s school, Castro, now 52, overstayed his visa and
found work at a St. Augustine roofing company in 2007. Initially,
he was paid in cash under the table. But after a few months, the
company said he needed a Social Security number to continue
working. So he bought one. It was the only way he could get work,
he said.

In 2011, Castro finally reconnected with Lucía Escobar using
modern technology — he found her on Facebook. Escobar, 48, who
had received asylum and is now a U.S. citizen, was going through
a divorce. They began talking every day and planned to be
together once the divorce was final.

Like many unauthorized workers, Castro feared he’d be deported if
he reported an injury. So when he sliced his pinkie on some
copper sheeting and got nine stitches, he stayed quiet and kept
working. But a few months later, when he wrenched his back
passing a load of tiles to a coworker on a roof, the company sent
him to a clinic.

There, a company representative filled out the form since it was
in English, Castro said. He didn’t recall the Social Security
number he’d used, so the representative got it from the company
and put it on the form.

The clinic gave Castro some pills for the pain. But when he
returned for the follow-up appointment, he was told there was a
problem with his Social Security number. Castro never returned
and treated his back with heating pads and pain relief balms. He
figured that was the end of it and continued working for the
company for nearly a year.

Then in November 2013, state investigators turned up at his home
and arrested him for insurance fraud. He had been turned in by a
Command investigator working for Lion.

The workers’ comp fraud charges were eventually dropped, but
Castro pleaded no contest to fraudulently using someone else’s
identity. He spent five months in jail and was facing deportation
before a judge granted him a voluntary departure to Nicaragua.

“The fake number, I understood because I needed it to work, but I
didn’t understand the fraud,” Castro said by phone from Managua.
“I’m not an irrational man. I’m not a criminal. So I didn’t
understand where I might have committed fraud. It didn’t make
sense to me. I never filled out a document asking for anything
looking for compensation.”

Escobar sensed something was wrong when she suddenly stopped
hearing from him. Then his phone was disconnected. “Every day, I
went on Facebook, hoping and writing to him,” she said.

Months later, when he finally called her from Nicaragua, she was
at once relieved and despondent. In 2015, after her divorce was
final, she flew to Nicaragua and married him. But they still live
separately, Castro in Nicaragua and Escobar outside Miami, where
she cares for her grandson. They are applying for Castro to
return, but the conviction could stand in his way.

Screen Shot 2017 08 17 at 2.03.58 PM
talks on a video call with her husband in Nicaragua. They are
applying for him to return, but his conviction for using a false
Social Security number could stand in their

McIntyre for ProPublica

“It’s sad because when you get married, you want to be with your
husband,” Escobar said. “We waited for so long to be together.”

Over the years, numerous courts have upheld the rights of
unauthorized workers to receive compensation for workplace
injuries, the minimum wage and protection from retaliation for
joining unions. The rights stem from their status as employees
regardless of their status as immigrants.

A Florida appeals court, for example, ruled in 1982 that “an alien illegally in this
country” is entitled to workers’ comp benefits.

That presumption was thrown into doubt in 2002 when the U.S.
Supreme Court ruledthat a group of undocumented plastics
workers fired for union activities weren’t entitled to back pay
because of their immigration status. Insurers and large employers
immediately flooded the courts with petitions designed to claw
back labor protections for unauthorized immigrants. Leading the
fight in Florida were employee leasing firms.

The petitioners argued that undocumented immigrants weren’t
entitled to workers’ comp since their employment was obtained
illegally. Lawmakers in several states, from Colorado to North
Carolina, introduced bills to block claims by unauthorized

As states courts and legislatures rejected that argument,
insurers began pushing to deny immigrants disability benefits,
arguing that once their unauthorized status was known, they
couldn’t return, like other workers, to less intensive jobs. That
reasoning succeeded in Michigan and Pennsylvania, but not in Delaware and Tennessee.

In the last few years, employers and insurers have begun using a
new tactic, arguing that they should only be responsible for
paying lost wages based on what the immigrant would have made in
their home country. In Nebraska, for example, meatpacker Cargill
tried to cut off benefits to Odilon Visoso, who was injured when a
200-pound piece of beef fell on his head, saying it was too
difficult to determine what he could earn in Chilpancingo,
Mexico, a crime-ridden city controlled by drug cartels near his
rural, mountainous village. Nebraska’s Supreme Court told the
company to use Nebraska wages.

Florida’s 2003 law was part of a sweeping overhaul aimed at
lowering costs for employers. According to a state Senate review, the division of insurance
fraud had pushed for the provision, arguing that “many times
illegal aliens are in league with unethical doctors and lawyers
who bilk the workers’ compensation system.” It was easier to
prove that immigrants had lied about their identities, the agency
said, than to prove their injuries were fabricated.

In recent interviews, however, representatives from the state
fraud unit and insurance industry couldn’t identify a single case
where immigrants had worked with doctors and lawyers to defraud
workers’ comp. Instead, they noted that false Social Security
numbers impede insurers’ ability to investigate claims. In
addition, they said, those claims could prevent the people whose
identity was stolen from getting benefits if they are injured in
the future.

Stiles, the attorney who was a key architect of the law, said the
state’s construction industry was rife with fraud at the time and
there was a lot of concern about illegal immigration. She said
even immigrants who are “truly injured” should be denied benefits
if they’re using illegal documents for their claim and “they
shouldn’t be here in the first place.”

“I think we’re a nation of laws and we ought to be able to
enforce those laws,” she said. “And if the federal government
won’t do it, sometimes the state has to help itself.”

Within months of the provision passing, though, the Senate’s
Banking and Insurance Committee recommended reconsideration,
raising concerns that legitimately injured workers could be
disqualified. But that advice was never heeded. The first
criminal cases under the law showed up in 2006. The law netted
laborers, farmworkers, roofers and landscapers. Several, like
Arias, were hurt while working on public projects — renovating
schools or pouring concrete at the zoo. But ProPublica and NPR
also found arrested workers who’d been injured at McDonald’s and
Best Western and turned in by major insurers like Travelers, The
Hartford and Zurich.

Screen Shot 2017 08 17 at 2.06.38 PM
Rocha was in jail, the father of her children began sexually
assaulting her 10-year-old daughter. “I was left shattered,” she

McIntyre for ProPublica

In one case, state investigators found that more than 100 workers
were all using a Social Security number belonging to a
10-year-old girl.

In another in 2014, an attorney for an injured worker complained
to the state that a fruit-packing company frequently used
immigration status as leverage in settlements. Instead of going
after the company, investigators raided the plantand arrested 106 immigrants,
including the injured man’s wife.

One of SouthEast’s first cases involved a hotel housekeeper at
the Comfort Suites in Vero Beach. Yuliana Rocha Zamarripa was
cleaning a hotel room in 2010 when she slipped on a bathroom
floor and slammed her knee on the bathtub, leaving her with pain
and swelling so severe she was unable to walk.

Lion sent her to a doctor, but quickly denied her claim based on
a false Social Security number.

Rocha’s mother had brought her to the United States from Mexico
when she was 13, and when she turned 17, her father bought her
the fake ID so she could work.

With few options, Rocha, now 32, settled her workers’ comp case
for less than $6,000 plus attorney fees. But she never got the
medical care she needed. The week before she was to receive the
check, she was arrested while making breakfast for her 4-year-old

Rocha spent the next year cycling through jail and immigration
detention, separated from her three children. She couldn’t sleep,
worrying what would happen to them if she were deported.

“I said the Lord’s Prayer all the time, and I would end by
asking, ‘God, give me a chance to return to my children. Don’t
let anything bad happen to them,’” she said. “I had a feeling
that something was not right.”

Rocha’s instincts were correct. While she was in jail, the father
of her children started sexually assaulting their 10-year-old
daughter, according to his arrest warrant. “I was left
shattered,” Rocha said tearfully, “because I didn’t know what was

With the help of an attorney, Rocha pleaded to a lesser charge —
“perjury not in an official proceeding” — and was finally
released. Because of what happened to Rocha’s daughter, the
attorney was able to get Rocha’s deportation canceled and help
her obtain a green card.

Rocha eventually received her settlement but had to spend all of
it securing her release and dealing with immigration. She now
walks with a limp because her injury didn’t heal correctly.

“I think it’s an injustice what happened to me,” she said. “All
because I fell, I slipped.”

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.

During an hourlong interview in Tallahassee, Simon Blank, who
heads the department’s Division of Investigative and Forensic
Services, said his detectives conduct their own investigations
and make their own decisions. Arrests at depositions, he said,
only occur when they have a hard time locating somebody.

“The thing that you need to keep mind is these people are
committing identity theft,” Blank said. “They’re taking somebody
else’s Social Security number or somebody else’s personal
information to obtain the work.”

While Blank repeatedly expressed compassion for immigrant workers
who are legitimately injured, he noted that people whose Social
Security numbers are used could face problems with their credit
or getting medical care if a claim that wasn’t theirs showed up
in their records.

The widow of the Mississippi man whose Social Security number
Arias was using, Carolyn Lasseter, said it hadn’t affected her,
but she doesn’t “feel sorry for people that are over here
illegally.” When she bought a house after her husband’s death,
the bank informed her that a different man had used his number to
take out, and pay on, a loan, but it was easily fixed.

Blank’s office has been accused by some attorneys of
unconstitutionally using the workers’ comp law to engage in
immigration enforcement. “The real intent behind what they’re
doing is to regulate immigration,” said Florida immigration
attorney Jimmy Benincasa, “because they don’t feel the federal
government is doing enough.”

He and others point to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that shot down a series of Arizona
immigration statutes, including one that made it a crime for
unauthorized immigrants to apply for, solicit or perform work.

“Congress decided it would be inappropriate to impose criminal
penalties on aliens who seek or engage in unauthorized
employment,” the court wrote. “It follows that a state law to the
contrary is an obstacle to the regulatory system Congress chose.”

The court noted that while federal law makes it a crime to obtain
employment through fraudulent means, the forms and documents that
workers submit to get jobs can only be used for federal
prosecution — not for state enforcement.

“Our agency is not in the business of going after illegal
people,” Blank said. “There’s quite a lot of other circumstances
why people use fake names and IDs and Social Security numbers
aside from immigration. You have people who might have other
legal problems. You have people who are wanting to stay off the
books for specific reasons, whether its divorces or liens put
against them.”

Among the nearly 800 cases that ProPublica and NPR identified,
only five fit the reasons Blank cited. Blank seemed unaware that
earlier this year, his own office’s annual report noted that
“nearly 100 percent” of the suspects investigated under the
statute were undocumented workers.

“It appears that it’s being applied in a discriminatory fashion,”
said Dennis Burke, the former U.S. attorney in Arizona who
challenged that state’s immigration statutes. “How do you justify
your enforcement being 99 percent Latino surnames?”

Burke predicted Florida would have a tough time defending the law
if it’s ever heard on constitutional grounds. After the Arizona
ruling in 2012, one attorney challenged the Florida statute’s
constitutionality, but both Florida and U.S. supreme courts
declined to take the appeal. Unlike Arizona’s law, the statute
doesn’t mention immigrants specifically. But Burke said the
enforcement data and the stated intent to target immigrant fraud
rings are problematic.

Told of what had happened to some of the arrested workers, Blank
said he felt for those people but reiterated his agency’s
obligation to protect the workers’ comp system.

“I guess that is a question that our legislature should maybe
look into,” he said. “What is the balance between the harm and
the benefit that’s being accomplished?”

Screen Shot 2017 08 17 at 2.08.37 PM
2015, Juvenal Dominguez Quino was arrested for using a false
Social Security number in his claim. “My son was watching” from a
window, he said. “He saw when they put the handcuffs on

McIntyre for ProPublica

Juvenal Dominguez Quino worries what will happen to his
8-year-old son with special needs if he gets deported. Dominguez,
43, has lived in the United States for 19 years. But his life was
thrown into uncertainty in 2014 when a construction trench he was
working in collapsed, burying him in dirt and causing him to
sprain his knee.

A month later, Command turned him in to state investigators after
he provided a false Social Security number to an insurance
adjuster. Dominguez said he told the adjuster he didn’t have
papers and had made the number up in order to work — details that
by themselves wouldn’t preclude him from receiving workers’ comp.
But Dominguez said the adjuster insisted she needed the number to
pay him benefits. Sunz Insurance and North American Risk
Services, who handled the claim, declined to comment.

Dominguez was arrested in January 2015 as he was getting his son
ready for school.

“My son was watching” from a window, he said, choking up. “He saw
when they put the handcuffs on me.”

At the time, Dominguez still couldn’t bend his knee, so he had to
sit with his legs extended across the backseat of the police car.

Dominguez pleaded no contest, and the judge sentenced him to two
years probation and ordered him to pay back nearly $19,000 in
restitution to the insurance company. He was detained by ICE and
put into deportation proceedings.

Michael DiGiacomo, owner of Platinum Construction, which employed
Dominguez, was surprised to hear what had become of him.
DiGiacomo said Dominguez was a reliable worker, and he didn’t
know his documents were fake. After Dominguez got hurt, he said,
his injury was in the hands of the leasing company and their

“It really sucks for him because, you know, you come and you want
to work; it sucks to have to deal with that after you got hurt,”
he said. “They should have at least paid for his medical bills
since he was hurt on the job.”

Screen Shot 2017 08 17 at 2.10.13 PM
worries what will happen to his 8-year-old son, who has special
needs, if he is deported. Dominiguez was arrested after a
construction trench collapsed on him.

McIntyre for ProPublica

Dominguez’s attorney has argued for a judge to cancel his
deportation because of the harmful effect it would have on his
U.S.-born son. His attorney is hopeful he will get a visa to

Even if he does, the insurance company scored a victory — it got
Dominguez and his medical costs to go away. “I didn’t want to do
any more of anything,” he said of his physical therapy. “I didn’t
want to claim anything else. I just wanted to live with it
because I knew that it would only bring me more problems.”

Nixon Arias’ attorney Brian Carter said what the state and
insurance companies are doing amounts to entrapment and ethnic

“Nobody looks at whether or not the Social Security number is
valid for an individual named Tom Smith,” he said. “The insurance
companies are using this little issue over a Social Security
number to avoid any financial responsibility, and in my opinion,
ethical responsibility to take care of these individuals.”

In the end, turning in Arias didn’t get the insurer off the hook.
Because the state attorney offered a plea deal, Normandy would’ve
had to convince a workers’ comp judge that Arias had not only
used a fake Social Security number but that he had done so to
obtain benefits. If it couldn’t, it would have had to pay for
medical treatment and lost wages potentially totaling hundreds of
thousands of dollars, Carter said. So with Arias in Honduras,
Normandy offered $49,000 plus attorney’s fees.

Sent back to a country he hadn’t lived in for 15 years, Arias
felt he had no choice but to take the offer. “I arrived
empty-handed,” he said. “I didn’t have means to put a roof over
my head or feed myself or buy medications.”

Despite having the settlement money, Arias said he doesn’t trust
the doctors in Honduras to perform a delicate back surgery.
“Here, they’re more likely to send you to the cemetery,” he said.
He hopes the United States might allow him to reenter for
humanitarian reasons, just to let him get the operation — and
perhaps see his kids.

Research contributed by Meg Anderson and Graham Bishai of NPR
and Sarah Betancourt of ProPublica. Translation services
contributed by Donatella Ungredda.

Read the original article on ProPublica. Copyright 2017. Follow ProPublica on Twitter.

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