The Grand Rapids Press reports today that the Michigan Supreme Court is being asked to address the case of David Sanchez, an illegal alien who was seriously injured on the job in 1998 at Eagle Alloy, a Muskegon foundry, and who drew workers' compensation benefits for about a year until his illegal status and his use of forged documents was discovered.
The issues in the case, as described by the Press:
Lawyers for Sanchez maintain he's entitled to benefits even after he was fired since state law provides that "aliens" are covered as well as citizens.
But a provision of the law exempts employers from paying compensation if a worker cannot work because of imprisonment or "commission of a crime." Eagle Alloy maintains it's not required to pay compensation because Sanchez -- by virtue of his fraudulent application and illegal status -- committed a crime.
This will be an interesting case for our textualist-minded Justices. The section in question is MCL 418.361, which provides for the payment of wage loss benefits and then carves out an exception:
However, an employer shall not be liable for compensation under section 351, 371(1), or this subsection for such periods of time that the employee is unable to obtain or perform work because of imprisonment or commission of a crime.
This section does nothing to disqualify a worker, including an alien, from receiving workers' compensation benefits if he committed a crime in securing the job (falsifying his papers) or in continuing to work. This section is designed to prohibit a worker who is eligible for benefits for receiving those benefits while imprisoned or while otherwise unable to work as a result of a criminal act. Unlike the driver thrown in jail for OUIL while receiving benefits, this man is not physically or otherwise "unable to. . . perform work because of" a criminal act. The article does not suggest that Sanchez is currently imprisoned, under a deportation order, or otherwise unable to work as a result of his illegal status. Indeed, it discloses that he is currently working:
As he awaits a decision in his case, he is working another factory job. Sanchez said he's not looking for any special help to make in here. He expects to earn his way. "I need to work," he said.
But even if he is regarded as ineligible for employment because employing him would be a crime, that does not make him unable to perform work because of "commission of a crime". The "inability" to perform work would be a result of the need to avoid committing a new crime.
Textualism isn't as easy as it sounds, is it?