Unlike the controversial cuts in benefits for legal immigrants, there was wide policy consensus in Congress and the Clinton administration that illegal immigrants should not be eligible for most subsidized benefits, except in emergency situations.
But perhaps the worst blow for the county's huge undocumented population--and for many residents with temporary legal status--was contained in the new immigration law, which includes provisions that experts say virtually rule out the possibility that many will ever attain legal status.
One section effectively voids lawsuits by hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, concentrated in Southern California, who say they were wrongly excluded from the government amnesty program of the 1980s.
Another provision bars anyone who has been living here unlawfully for a year or more--as the vast majority have been--from the United States for 10 years. Still another measure raises the bar for long-term residents, many with U.S.-born children, who are citing hardship in seeking relief from deportation.
The official hope is that those here illegally or with provisional legal statuses will leave.
"If we do get serious about enforcing our immigration laws, about making it more difficult for people to work in this country and get benefits in this country, many illegal aliens will get the message and go home," said Ira Mehlman, Los Angeles representative for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which seeks limits on all immigration.
But many have been here for years, have steady jobs and U.S.-born children, and have virtually nothing to go back to.
So many observers predict that most will lead more and more of an underground existence--one likely to be increasingly precarious as a bolstered Immigration and Naturalization Service accelerates sweeps, job-site raids and other aggressive tactics in immigrant communities here.
Said attorney Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law:
"These people will constitute an ever-more exploited underclass without hope of ever becoming legal."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The sweeping new federal welfare overhaul signed into law by President Clinton in August achieves much of its savings through cuts in benefits for legal immigrants. No place will feel the sting like Los Angeles County. Impending county impacts:
* An estimated 99,000 elderly and disabled legal immigrants will lose federal Supplemental Security Income benefits and accompanying State Supplemental Payment. Average individual monthly payout is now $626, principally used for rent and food
* About 150,000 legal immigrants will lose food stamps. A typical family of three now receives $244 monthly in vouchers. In addition, thousands of illegal immigrant mothers and children, and many others with temporary legal statuses, could lose food aid if Gov. Pete Wilson opts to impose new restrictions on federal nutrition assistance.
* The area's economy will experience a net loss in buying power of $532 million from termination of SSI/SSP payments and food stamps for legal immigrants, according to county estimates. Many of those denied aid are expected to sign up for county-financed general relief checks.
* Unless state law is changed, 22,000 mostly elderly legal immigrants will lose In-Home Supportive Services, which assists people who might otherwise need institutionalization. A new state law would also be required to avert the eviction from nursing homes of an unknown number of illegal immigrants and temporary legal residents, most of them elderly.
* About 124,000 adults and children could lose federal checks averaging about $600 monthly for a family of four if the state opts to bar legal immigrants from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the successor to Aid to Families With dependent Children.
* More than 300,000 legal immigrants could be left without health coverage if the state excludes them from non-emergency Medi-Cal. The county could lose tens of millions in Medi-Cal revenue just as this newly excluded population turns to county hospitals and clinics for subsidized care. Already, about 20,000 illegal immigrant women are slated to lose state-financed prenatal care, and many other temporary legal residents face exclusion from Medi-Cal except in emergencies.