The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Monday, September 13, 2004

The Real Cost of Immigration 

A couple weeks ago I read an article on TechCentralStation by Stephen Green (VodkaPundit) entitled Culture Shock Goes Both Ways. While overall I thought it was an excellent article on some cultural issues relating to immigration, there was one thing that he mentioned off hand that I have to firmly disagree with.

Some of the fear is economic, and that point is probably less valid. Mexicans are crossing our borders to steal our high-wage lettuce-picking jobs? If your big fear is that the price of a bag of pre-washed, pre-cut lettuce might not reach six bucks any time soon, then I suppose that the southern border had better be locked down, vamonos. In the meantime, let's not forget that Canadians have already stolen many of our best-paying jobs in the field of stand-up comedy.

Personally I think that reducing the economic considerations of immigration to simply employment is wrong. Illegal immigration is extremely costly, even if not through lost jobs or direct income. So what is the cost of illegal immigration if they are actually contributing to the economy? And I do believe there is a contribution there. The problem is that I think the negative economic impact outweighs any positive contributions. So what are the negative impacts? The most glaring one is the cost of health care in border states because of illegal immigrants.

Hospitals are required to give emergency medical care to anyone who comes to their door, whether or not they have ability to pay. With just a brief Google search, I found this study from New Mexico State University:

In Luna County, N.M., the poorly funded ambulance service of the small town of Columbus is frequently called to the nearby United States-Mexico Port of Entry to pick up sick or injured Mexican citizens who have arrived from across the border and carry them to the privately owned Mimbres Memorial Hospital in Deming, about 30 miles away.

Once the patients have been treated, the Luna County Sheriff's Office is called to take them back from Deming to the Columbus Port of Entry, where they are returned across the border. The number of the ambulance calls rose approximately 20 percent between 1998 and 1999, but 76 percent of the bills for the service remain uncollected write-offs, said New Mexico State University government professor Nadia Rubaii-Barrett, one of four authors of a study on the costs to U.S. border counties of handling illegal immigrants from Mexico.

In 1999, Luna County's total cost for law enforcement, criminal justice and emergency medical services related to undocumented persons was $943,000, and of this it was reimbursed $8,000 from the federal government, approximately 0.8 percent. The federal law that provided the reimbursement covers part of the expense of detaining criminal illegal immigrants, but doesn't cover ambulance service or hospital costs, Rubaii-Barrett said.

Hidalgo County, one of the most sparsely populated counties in New Mexico, spent approximately $485,000 in 1999 in law enforcement, court costs or emergency medical services connected with illegal immigrants, but was reimbursed only 0.5 percent of its costs by the federal government, Rubaii-Barrett said.

Dona Ana County is more urbanized than either of the other two New Mexico border counties and its costs of handling illegal immigrants are more evenly spread among detention services, emergency medical and indigent health care. It spent $3.2 million in 1999 to provide legal, judicial and emergency services to illegal immigrants, but recovered only 12 percent of those costs from the federal government, Rubaii-Barrett said.

In fact, some hospitals in the area have been forced to shut down because they simply cannot stay afloat given the cost. And there is plenty of other information out there on the same topic. Then there is welfare, federally subsidized food stamps, and Medicaid for children of mothers of illegal immigrants. Wait.. benefits for illegal immigrants? How does that work? A citizen is considered to be anyone born within the borders of the United States, or a child of a United States citizen. That means that an illegal pregnant woman can come to the U.S., give birth, and tada... you are now the parent of a U.S. citizen. Not only does the mother get to stay in the country, but her child gets benefits (and the mother by proxy), and can even be enrolled in public schools. Although being a citizen is usually not even a requirement to be enrolled in public schools in many states.

Of course, part of the problem is just bureaucracy too. In the case of legal immigrants, some local governments aren't even asking companies to reimburse for costs when they should:

A lawsuit, sponsored by the Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement in Washington, asserts that Los Angeles County is violating federal law by not collecting from immigration sponsors. The group estimates that as a result, taxpayers are being to forced to foot as much as $20 million a year in unpaid bills.
...
Under a 1996 federal law, many would-be immigrants must find sponsors — almost always family members — who sign an “affidavit of support” promising to pay for any public services received by the immigrant if the immigrant cannot pay. The law was intended to prevent immigrants from moving to the United States solely to go on welfare.

About 75 percent of legal immigrants admitted to this country since 1996 were sponsored, said Jeff Passel, a researcher at the Washington-based Urban Institute. Immigrants can also become legal permanent residents if a U.S. employer petitions for them or if they are refugees.

Now then... we haven't even gone into the cost due to an increase in crime that is generally seen in lower income areas where many illegals live. Well, let's face it. They're being here breaking the law all by itself. And personally, that is the hardest thing for me to accept. I've worked with several different people from China and India who have come over on H1-B visa programs, two of which eventually got their citizenship. One of them was laid off, and ended up being sent back to India. They worked hard to come over, and they followed the rules once they got here. When my friend was shipped back to India because he couldn't find a job in 30 days after being let go, it was extremely hard on him and his family (he ended up selling most of the stuff he had here for much less than it was worth just because he didn't have time), yet he went. That is the law. Then to see so many others who thumb their nose at the law, seemingly without a care, is just plain insulting to all those who work within the rules.

So - is it worth the cost?

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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.


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