In the ongoing debate over immigration, let's all agree that a worker injured on the job should be appropriately compensated, even if he lied about his immigration status to get hired.
Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled a Mexican citizen who suffered permanent eye damage in 2000 should receive workers' compen-sation payments. Mario B. Curiel was doing demolition work in Charleston for Environ-mental Management Services when he was struck in the right eye, causing the retina to detach. His vision was permanently impaired.
Curio admitted he was an illegal immigrant, according to the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling, which said he used false documents to get hired in 1997.
Environmental Management Services said Curiel was not eligible for workers' compensation payments because federal law prohibits hiring illegal immigrants, according to The Sun News of Myrtle Beach.
Lower courts ruled South Carolina's workers' compensation laws cover legal and illegal immigrants. Fortunately, the Supreme Court agreed.
As the ruling noted, excluding illegal immigrants from workers' compensation coverage could encourage some companies to hire more of those workers. Unscrupulous employers could hire illegal immigrants knowing the companies would avoid the cost of insuring them. In addition to cheap wages, these companies would reap another bonanza by not paying benefits.
We also wonder if the practice would tempt companies to cut corners on safety. If employers are immune from workers' compensation coverage, why worry if the worker is safe?
But a more compelling argument can be made for awarding workers' compensation in these cases. It's the right thing to do.
As Americans, we must treat everyone with compassion regardless of nationality. The workplace should be as safe as possible. Anyone injured on the job should have full access to the programs established to help injured workers.
While Environmental Management Services rightly lost its appeal, we disagree with one critic who said companies should be forbidden from relying on insurers in these cases.
Patricia Matthews, the Horry County team leader of the Federal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Coalition, told The Sun News she agreed illegal immigrants injured on the job should receive payment. But, she said, the companies should pay the cost.
"If an illegal alien is hurt at a job, the employer should pay for it out of their own pocket," Matthews said. "I think everyone who hires them is a traitor."
In the case of Environmental Management Services, Curio provided fraudulent documents. The Supreme Court's ruling does not indicate the company did anything wrong in hiring him.
Requiring such companies to bear the burden of workers' compensation payments seems unfair. If a company knowingly hires an illegal immigrant, it should be fully prosecuted under the law that forbids the hiring.
But don't use the workers' compensation system to fight illegal immigration.