the legal abuse of illegal workers.
The California Workers’ Compensation system is dysfunctional. ( 2002) Costs are high though the benefit to workers, and employers, is meager. Where illegal workers are concerned, abuse is particularly common.
A 10-year on-line review of the Sacramento Bee reveals more than 200 articles on “undocumented” (aka illegal) workers, but none specifically addressing their problems with work injuries. These injured workers tell of border crossing and re-crossing, brushes with the law, with various profiteers both local and foreign. They speak of adventure, hope, opportunity; of self sacrifice, separation from loved ones.
In the face of permanent injury, illegals often face loneliness or despair. Caught in a process they find unintelligible, dehumanizing, and inefficient, they are almost universally eager to tell their story to someone, anyone willing to listen. I can attest that personal histories — like that recounted below — are not new. I heard them 50 years ago when I worked summers with braceros near Chico; and 40 years ago when I practiced in Woodland as a young GP. (I spoke a peculiar mix of Spanish learned in a Chihuahua mining town, an internship in Panama, and from those 1950’s Guanajuato braceros who still live in my thoughts and my heart.) What is new is the degree of dysfunction and abuse in the Worker’s Compensation program. In the following case, names and locations are altered; but the details are real.
Ricardo Morales is guapo, a handsome 25-year-old with carefully groomed hair and mustache who looks like he stepped out of a Mexican soap opera. His family has a small piece of grazing land on which they run a marginal cattle operation in Mexico. He came to California six years ago for the adventure and to gather a “stake” to buy his own livestock.
Ricardo crossed the border by paying a coyote about $1,500 in US dollars. In Tijuana, he joined a man and woman in a safe house, where they were given clean clothes and bed. Each was provided with a new identity in a search through several thousand California driver’s licenses for a good likeness — Ricardo changed his mustache and hair to match the license photo. They memorized new names, birth dates, and vital information about “friends” in Tijuana.