When Cecilia Martinez slipped illegally across the border from Mexico more than a decade ago, she had more strikes against her than a pack of spent matches. Poor. Unmarried. Still in her teens. And pregnant.
Yet, Martinez, now 30 years old and earning $6.50 an hour as an electronics assembler, managed to find the help she needed.
When the time came to deliver her baby, Martinez checked into the UCI Medical Center in Orange. Ramon, now 11, was born there without undue fanfare or hassle. Three years later, Martinez again turned to UCI Medical Center. This time son Carlos, now 8, was born.
The boys, both U.S. citizens by virtue of their birth, are among the thousands of infants county officials say have been born at the state- and county-funded UCI facility over the years. According to the county's latest estimates, about 1,600 children of illegal aliens are born at the medical center each year at an estimated cost of about $3 million.
In San Clemente, Mateo and Concepcion, who did not want their surname revealed for fear of deportation, send the three children they brought with them from Tijuana seven years ago to nearby public schools where they have learned to speak English better than their parents.
In general, the county's school districts do not identify children of illegal aliens among their estimated 337,000 students because state law requires them to offer a public education to any child residing in their community regardless of citizenship.
Yet some officials believe Mateo's and Concepcion's children are part of a group that easily numbers more than 15,000. The Santa Ana Unified School District alone has an estimated 7,200 children of illegals among its 36,000 students, officials report.
Whether largely poor and low-earning illegal immigrants receive more in public services than they return to the government in taxes has been a long-simmering issue throughout the United States.
Tax, Outlay Gap
In general, most researchers and immigration authorities agree that employed illegals and their families generally benefit the local economy--by work that, in turn, creates other jobs, by renting homes and apartments, and through their purchases. Nevertheless there is a gap between what most illegal aliens pay in taxes and what they receive.
According to researchers, much of the tax money paid by illegals goes to the federal government in the form of income and social security taxes, not to the local governments, including school districts that deliver most of the services that illegal immigrants use.
For example, while such workers have federal income taxes withheld from paychecks, they are often not in a position to benefit from federally sponsored programs, including such welfare mainstays as Aid to Families with Dependent Children and food stamps.
Not only are illegal aliens not entitled to any sort of welfare, county officials say they have no evidence that any illegals have been on the Orange County public assistance rolls.
One reason, suspects Richard P. Ruiz, the director of financial assistance in the county Social Services Agency, is that if an illegal alien is caught receiving aid, they face almost certain deportation.
Local Level Costs
"They don't want to risk it," Ruiz says. "They know they can't get aid without our checking them out so they don't bother to apply."
Yet, illegals do receive education and health benefits, most of which are paid for at the local level with property and sales.
But, by and large, researchers say, illegals tend not to own property so they do not directly pay property taxes to cities, counties and school districts. Additionally, because most have modest incomes, they cannot spend as much and, hence, do not contribute heavily to the sales tax which is split among the state, cities and counties.
Considering only state and local taxes and services, illegals are generally believed to be a drain on the public sector. "Mexican immigrant families do pay less in taxes than they receive in services," says Thomas Muller, a researcher for the Washington-based Urban Institute who is considered among the nation's leading authorities on illegal immigration.
However, Muller says the reasons for this disparity are generally lower earnings among immigrant Mexicans, many of whom are supporting large families. Muller says that because Mexican immigrants are usually at the lowest end of the salary scale, their state income tax bite is small, and the amount of money they have to spend on taxable goods is proportionately low.
Big Users of Schools
In addition, Muller and Rand Institute researchers Kevin McCarthy and R. Burciaga Valdez note that because Mexican families tend to be larger than the U.S. average, they are big users of the public school system.