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Immigrants' Cost to County Is Debated : Finances: Study finds county spends $946 million yearly on services, but newcomers pay governments $4.3 billion in taxes.


Los Angeles County spends $946 million to provide public services to recently arrived immigrants, but these same immigrants pay $4.3 billion in taxes to federal, state and county government, according to an official study released Monday.

The report showed that much of the tax revenue generated by immigrants is distributed to federal and state government, with the county receiving only $139 million, about 3.2% of the immigrants' total tax contribution.

Latino groups, sociologists and conservative Supervisor Michael Antonovich differed sharply on how to interpret the results of the report conducted by the county's Internal Services Department.

Antonovich said the report showed that illegal immigration is to blame for the county's budget crisis. But Latino groups said the results showed that immigrants are subsidizing state and federal programs while receiving few services in return.

"Illegal immigration has resulted in a catastrophic fiscal crisis that is devastating to taxpayers," Antonovich said. "Illegal immigration mocks the law and is an affront to those who immigrate legally. If anybody doesn't realize the impact, they're blind."

Antonovich called for strict enforcement of immigration laws, tamper-proof identity cards for legal immigrants, speeded-up deportation proceedings and greater funding for the Border Patrol.

But Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, a UCLA scholar who monitored the county study, said the results show that immigrants are paying more than their fair share for a variety of services.

"These people are carrying more than their own weight," Hayes-Bautista said. "In one sense, these immigrants are subsidizing McDonnell-Douglas (defense contracts) and paying for Weed and Seed programs in Maine and Michigan."

Hayes-Bautista said the study pointed to the county's need to seek more funding from state and federal governments for cash-strapped social programs.

The report studied the fiscal impact of the county's 2.3-million immigrant population during the 1991-92 fiscal year, dividing immigrants into four groups: 630,000 recently legalized immigrants, 720,000 people who received amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act, 700,000 illegal immigrants and 250,000 children of illegal immigrant parents, children born in the United States and thus American citizens.

The study found that:

* The four groups of immigrants accounted for $946.7 million in county spending last year. However, they paid only $139.1 million in county taxes and fees.

* Illegal immigrants accounted for $308.4 million of county spending but paid only $36.2 million in taxes. Illegal immigrants paid an additional $777 million in state and federal taxes.

* In most areas of county government, recently arrived immigrants used less than their share of services. Although they are 25% of the population, they accounted for 23% of spending in the criminal justice system and 21% in the Department of Public Social Services. Immigrants made up a disproportionate share of spending (68%) only in the public health system.

Although the report's findings were at times contradictory and inconclusive, anti-immigrant groups said the study showed the need for tough immigration laws.

"This report once and for all should take away the myth that illegal aliens are good for society and that they do jobs no one else will do," said Alan C. Nelson, former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and consultant to Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Some scholars questioned why the report included large numbers of legal immigrants and the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants who are citizens. Illegal immigrants made up only 30% of the immigrant population studied.

"The report is trying to show that the county is laying out a lot of money for services, but it is basing that argument on data from legal immigrants and citizen children," said John Friedmann of UCLA's Urban Planning Department.

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