Monday, April 12, 2004

Florida Blood Money: $75,000 per death if you're Mexican, $150,000 if you're Canadian

'The most patently unconstitutional thing I've seen in my life.'

Families of the 8 Mexican workers who were killed in a van rollover on April 1 will receive $75,000 in workers compensation payments. Not bad? Not bad if you don't realize that the families would have gotten $150,000 if they were immigrants from Canada, instead of Mexico.

Yes, 145 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and 15 years after the Florida Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, Florida law still provides twice as much for a dead Canadian worker as a dead Mexican worker.

The way it works is that if the dead Mexican worker's family happens to know about the law and the Supreme Court decision, and can hire a lawyer to challenge it, they may get the full $150,000. But for those who don't know, the law remains on the books, and the insurance companies pay less for Mexicans than for Canadians.
"The reason why is racial," said West Palm Beach lawyer Jose G. Rodriguez, who represents the Mexican consulate and has fought the workers comp law. "Canadians are like Americans; they have the same last names, they speak the same language and they have the same color skin."
The infuriating thing is that this isn't just an oversight, or a law that the overworked Florida legislature hasn't had time to change:
Last year, Florida lawmakers had a special session to revamp Florida's workers comp laws. Although they put caps on attorneys' fees in workers comp cases, they didn't touch the Canadian benefit exemption. Instead, they upped the death benefit for U.S. and Canadian families to $150,000. Families from other countries would be eligible for half: $75,000.

"The problem is the Emancipation Proclamation happened about 145 years too early for some folks in this country," Rodriguez said. "You won't get the Florida Legislature to change it."
Ah, it's good to be living in a color-blind society.