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Immigrant workers and benefit complexities


Mexican marriage law, spouses in two countries, and children born on both sides of the border are issues Iowa's Supreme Court considered before determining survivor benefits in a comp case involving a nonresident alien.

The case of Jody Perez Rojas v. Pinde Ridge Farms L.L.C. is available here

In the end, the court ruled that an Iowa law requiring a 50% reduction in comp benefits for nonresident aliens is constitutional among other findings. In Iowa, the other 50% in benefits that normally would flow to a worker or dependents go into Iowa's Second Injury Fund.

Laws reducing benefits for nonresident aliens are common in many states, the court decision shows.

All but nine states have comp laws addressing benefits for nonresident aliens.

Five states exclude nonresident aliens from receiving any benefits while five others treat their dependents on equal terms with residents. The majority of the remaining states reduce benefits for nonresident aliens.

While Iowa's law doesn't depart from many other states, this particular decision is interesting because it shows the complexities that can arise when providing or determining benefits for immigrants.

The deceased worker, Raul Perez Rojas, died in 2004. He married 17 years earlier in a religious ceremony in Mexico and likely had five children there.

But Mexican law only recognizes civil marriages and not religious ones. Therefore, Iowa's judicial system had to weigh whether the wife married in the religious ceremony is a dependent.

A work comp commissioner determined because Mexico did not recognize that marriage neither does Iowa law and therefore that wife is not entitled to benefits. The Supreme Court agreed.

Because one of the five children was not listed on a birth registry, but is listed on a baptism announcement, there was also a question of whether the deceased was that child's father and therefore entitled to benefits.

The commissioner and courts found there was enough evidence to suggest the Mr. Rojas was the father and all five children in Mexico are entitled to benefits.

In 1999, the deceased married another woman in Iowa and they had a child.

Both spouses sought death benefits and both their cases resulted in appeals.

For a time the employer and its insurers seemed confused over which family to pay death benefits to and an investigation was required to help sort things out.

Iowa's court system also had plenty of issues to sort out, issues that don't typically arise when a deceased worker is a resident.

Comp Time suspects some of the complexities presented by this claim are common when benefits must be provided for immigrant workers who maintain family and financial ties to another country while living in the United States over many years.

It would be interesting to know whether the costs that arose here are eventually passed back to the employer in terms of higher premiums because of the additional investigation and court costs this case generated?