I recently came across the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association’s Daily Legislative Watch and learned something quite disturbing. This legislative update contained a reference to SB 7, a bill proposed by the Insurance and Labor Committee that would essentially prevent illegal immigrants the ability to collect workers’ compensation if injured or sick on the job. My question to the committee members is, “Are you trying to attract more illegal immigrants to Georgia?” Because with this bill, that is exactly the effect it will have.
It appears that Georgia legislators can’t comprehend the source of this problem or don’t want to ruffle the feathers of those that fill their election coffers. It shouldn’t be a secret any longer why illegal immigrants come here. It’s because we demand it. And by “demand,” I mean that we have a demand for cheap goods and services which necessitates cheap labor. These illegal immigrants are the “supply” for this “demand.” This is more commonly referred to as a supply and demand economic model. Illegal immigration revolves around this concept and the Committee is proposing that the solution is to economically incentivize businesses to attract and hire even more illegal immigrants. This law would hand businesses their dream employee: Someone that can never pursue a workers’ compensation claim against them regardless how badly they may have been injured on the job. The result is, of course, the elimination of insurance costs and payouts.
To those who believe Georgia will no longer be desirable to illegals if they unable to collect workers’ compensation I say this is a laughable notion. As long as a demand exists for cheap labor, illegal immigrants will come because eliminating workers’ compensation is an ancillary concern to them. Their number one and main concern is money, not benefits, which employers will happily provide to them under the table and for less than the minimum wage. Until we begin to acknowledge that the true driving force behind illegal immigration is the collective action of employers willing to hire these people, legislation like SB 7 will continue to miss the mark. Worse, this kind of legislation will continue to exacerbate the problem due to the law of unintended consequences.
Rather than trying to limit the number of illegal immigrants who will come here undeterred for the available jobs, the Legislature should be punishing the companies that choose to hire them. They can start by requiring private companies to begin treating illegal workers as they would any other worker. Require that they report them, pay payroll taxes on them, conform to minimum wage requirements, continue making them eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, and make them eligible for unemployment. And when the employer is caught hiring illegal immigrants, impose severe financial penalties on them. The incentive to hire illegal immigrants quickly evaporates, and domestic legal workers will eventually become the only fiscally sane option.
These attempts to reform employer hiring practices have gone nowhere. Bills such as the Georgia Employer and Worker Protection Act of 2010 that would have required Georgia private employers to use the E-Verify system to citizen-check employees are currently dead. Why is the Georgia legislature entertaining every other measure to deter illegal immigration except the one that will adversely impact the businesses that illegally benefit from it?
(Jeremiah K. Jarmin is an Atlanta attorney.)