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County Is Stuck With Bill for Immigrants

December 30, 1985|PETER F. SCHABARUM | Peter F. Schabarum is chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Politicians and citizens of all backgrounds are divided, sometimes bitterly, over the issues of illegal immigration and political refugees. But America is a nation of immigrants, and there is deep compassion for those who come here in search of a better life. Emma Lazarus captured that spirit with her inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free . . . .

My own grandparents were examples of the American immigrant dream. My grandfather, a German engineer, migrated to Mexico where he met and married my Mexican grandmother. They eventually immigrated legally to California with their children and became U.S. citizens. There were no welfare programs then, and they and all the other immigrants worked hard to pay for food, clothing and shelter.

Today those programs and more are available to immigrants, both legal and illegal, and Los Angeles County is staggering under the burden of caring for all those who come to our shores.

The Board of Supervisors has no quarrel with the humanitarian aspect of providing public services to refugees and illegal immigrants. There are strong moral and public health reasons dictating that public services be made available to these people. We are concerned, however, with the question of who has ultimate responsibility for paying for those services.

The board believes that such an obligation belongs to the federal government. After all, it has sole responsibility for controlling immigration into this country, and that responsibility includes providing for an orderly process of entry to the United States.

By the chance of geography, according to the 1980 U.S. Census, 49.8% of all undocumented aliens in this country were in California, 64.3% of those settled in Los Angeles County.

Let me share with you some more eye-opening statistics:

--Los Angeles County is home to an estimated 1 million undocumented aliens.

--Los Angeles County has more undocumented aliens than all other states combined, with the exception of New York, Texas and the entire state of California.

--It costs local taxpayers more than $200 million each year to provide health, justice and social services for this population. Out of that $200 million, the county Department of Health Services will spend $115 million this fiscal year on health care for the more than 600 undocumented aliens who daily occupy beds in the five county hospitals--none of which is reimbursed by the state or federal government.

--Approximately 70% (or 18,000) of the babies born in county hospitals are to undocumented-alien women. These babies are automatically American citizens, and are eligible for the welfare rolls and all other benefits available to U.S. citizens.

--48,000 children whose mothers are undocumented aliens receive benefits costing county taxpayers $8 million per month.

--If Congress passes one of the several immigration-reform bills before it, the county will be saddled with a staggering $300 million cost per year to provide health and welfare for these newly legalized residents.

--62,500 political refugees are already on the county's welfare rolls as the result of previous congressional decisions.

As things now stand, our treasured "melting pot" is in danger of overflowing and putting out the flame.

Despite these facts and contrary to federal law, the mayor and a City Council majority, by proclaiming Los Angeles a sanctuary, have touched off a storm of protest. And the public has a right to be angry.

Who will take care of these people? Not the mayor or the Los Angeles City Council.

The burden will fall squarely on the taxpayers of Los Angeles County. This is morally and financially unacceptable.

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