The Naples Daily News brought the heat on this one.
Journalist Maria Perez debuted a yearlong harrowing investigation this week that uncovered the commonplace practice of Florida staff leasing companies for high-risk jobs hiring undocumented immigrant workers and axing them without compensation when they became injured.
The piece tells the story of Abednego de la Cruz, who sliced his finger to the bone cutting concrete blocks in Tallahassee. He was fired and was refused medical care by his employer, Holiday-based SouthEast Personnel Leasing.
“Instead, his employer called the police and had him arrested,” Perez reported. He was undocumented and now faces deportation, fearing he will not be able to raise his daughter whom was born in the U.S.
Cruz’ story is one shared by many.
What’s even more troubling: The companies weren’t breaking the law – technically.
“Instead of verifying their documents when hiring, staff leasing companies like SouthEast and their insurers used the law to report undocumented workers after they were injured, court and state records show,” Perez reported.
Brian Carter, a workers’ compensation lawyer, claimed that the companies were aware that they were hiring undocumented workers with false documents and knew that high-risk jobs attracted unauthorized immigrants, but chose to not verify identification documents – a crime in which only one employer has been charged since 2003.
— It gets bad: Perez reported that SouthEast advertised “big savings in workers’ compensation costs to companies with a history of above-average injury claims in high-risk industries.”
— It gets worse: The owners of SouthEast also own companies that provide workers’ comp and claims handling. “SouthEast and its related businesses employ the workers, pocket the premiums paid by their client businesses, and decide which claims should be denied and which workers reported,” Perez reported.
— A secret kept in the dark: “The director of Florida’s Division of Investigative and Forensic Services, which investigates workers found using false identity information, said he wasn’t aware that employee leasing companies and their insurers reported most of the injured immigrants in recent years,” Perez reported.
— From the source: “At least 163 immigrant workers in Florida were charged since 2004 with a felony of providing false identification after they were injured. In at least 159 cases, their employer or their insurance company reported them,” per the Daily News report.
The piece sheds light on a gross mistreatment of immigrant workers. It deserves to be read for that reason alone.
But it also serves as a lasting example of great investigative reporting. At the end of report, the Daily News explains how it reported on the story, peeling back the many layers involved in the onion that is the process of reporting something exceptionally impactful. Each claim is documented appropriately, and the story is accompanied by an interactive map for illustration.
In a time when accurate reporting is a constant concern — coupled with the merit of the story inside — this piece is a must-read.