SAN DIEGO — Illegal aliens applying for amnesty appear to be as healthy as legal U.S. residents, according to the results of a survey released here Thursday.
"The encouraging news is that the population is not anywhere near as sick as we had feared," said Paul B. Simms of the San Diego County Department of Health Service.
Officials said the survey was the first such study in the nation.
However, while the survey showed that the occurrence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis was not especially high among applicants for legal resident status, the results also indicated that the great majority of applicants lack any health insurance and few have had regular contact with physicians. Those facts could pose future dilemmas for local officials already concerned about the prospective costs of providing health care to undocumented immigrants legalized under the 1986 federal immigration act.
"That impact is going to be significant," Simms said, "and I am convinced that it's going to tax or overtax county health care services."
He noted, for example, that a significant number of the amnesty applicants surveyed--about 29%--were females of child-bearing age who likely would need prenatal and newborn care if they became pregnant. Among the general population in San Diego County, he noted, about 25% are women of child-bearing age.
At least one state official welcomed the key finding--that the amnesty population is in basically good health.
"Taking the data on the face of it, I think that I'd breathe a sigh of relief if it was this way on a statewide basis," said Mark Helmar, assistant secretary for program and fiscal affairs for the California Health and Welfare Agency. "It's a good sign."
State and local officials said they know of no other survey such as the one just completed in San Diego. No similar studies are being conducted in Orange and Los Angeles counties, two other areas with large undocumented populations, officials there said.
Health and education authorities have expressed considerable concern about the cost of providing services to the newly legalized population, which is expected to total about 900,000 in California. For instance, there was concern that illegal aliens who once feared to use public services would now put a heavy demand on the system.
"Maybe some people who were afraid to use emergency (care) in the past because of their illegal status will now make use of it," said Irene Riley of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.
Illegal aliens are barred from using a number of public services, including general assistance and Aid to Families With Dependent Children. With legalization, they will be eligible for these services.
To offset such costs, Congress authorized the expenditure of $1 billion a year, which is aimed at helping states meet the additional expenses. Local officials have said it won't be enough.
Authorities here based their conclusions on a survey of the health status of 2,954 undocumented immigrants who filed applications for legalization, or amnesty, under the new immigration law between May 5 and July 13. That number represents about 22% of all amnesty applicants in San Diego County during that period. Information was taken from the medical examination that all applicants must complete.
Immigration law allows the exclusion of immigrants with some infectious diseases and other serious ailments. However, waivers are commonly granted when the diseases are under treatment and control.
Waivers are not being provided to aliens demonstrating symptoms of AIDS. However, immigration officials said that testing for the AIDS virus will not be conducted for would-be immigrants until Dec. 1.
Officials here plan to update the results every three months.
Employers, amnesty seekers upset over increase in INS raids. Part II, Page 3.