South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Illegal Alien Workers Have the Right to Enforce State Laws Regarding Work Safety

New York high court held that undocumented aliens who were injured while working construction had the right to sue under state law to recover lost wages. Federal law does not limit application of state law in this regard, and state law does not distinguish between workers with legal and illegal status.

Topic Employment Law
Key Words

Illegal Aliens; Personal Injury; Construction

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Balbuena entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico . Working construction in New York , he fell from a ramp while pushing a wheelbarrow, sustaining severe injuries. He sued for negligence and violations of state labor law. His case and another like it resulted in conflicting rulings in the lower court. The New York high court took the cases to settle the law on the issue of the rights of illegal aliens to use state remedies available in state labor law.


The federal government has exclusive right to regulate immigration. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) did not expressly preempt state laws regarding the possible scope of recovery in personal injury actions based on state labor laws. Hence, undocumented aliens who are injured while working construction may sue under New York law to recover lost wages. The IRCA does not eliminate state safety laws regarding workplace safety, so illegal aliens have the same rights in such an incident as do workers who have legal work status. State law on workplace safety does not only apply to workers with proper documentation.


Balbuena v. IDR Realty LLC, 845 N.E.2d 1246 (Ct. App., N.Y., 2006)

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