Like the alcoholic who won't stop drinking, Los Angeles County public officials keep partying on. Flush with a $100-million federal transfusion to keep their failing public health-care system from collapsing under the weight of large numbers of uninsured illegal immigrants, the county's leaders have done the political equivalent of ordering up another round by making public services more accessible to illegal immigrants.
The fact is, the fiscal mess forcing closure of public health facilities in L.A. County, placing many lives in jeopardy, is a direct result of massive immigration to the area. An estimated 2.5 million county residents lack basic health insurance -- a large percentage of whom are in the U.S. illegally. Because immigration is a federal responsibility, it would seem only fair that Washington pick up the tab for providing health care for the people it has failed to prevent from settling illegally.
But the failures of federal immigration enforcement tell only part of the story. The magnitude and cost of illegal immigration in L.A. are also consequences of state and local policies.
Over the last several decades, and despite the severe fiscal crises faced by local and state governments, political leaders continued to promote policies that grant costly benefits to people who violate immigration laws.
It is disingenuous, at best, for the county and city to shield and subsidize federal lawbreakers and then complain about the costs.
For example, the $100-million federal assistance package, which will just barely keep the county health system on life support, comes on the heels of the county Board of Supervisors' reaffirmation of a policy, first adopted last June, of accepting the Mexican consular ID card as a valid document for accessing public services.
The city has accepted the card on an experimental basis since May and is expected to decide soon whether to make its acceptance permanent.
The matricula consular is used almost exclusively by illegal aliens. Two of the most vocal proponents of honoring the cards, Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, have said that the policy is intended to ensure that people who have them can use them to access public services.
The city of Los Angeles also maintains policies that protect and encourage illegal immigrants. A 1979 ordinance, known as Special Order 40, prohibits Los Angeles police officers from asking victims of crime or alleged criminals about their immigration status.
Similarly, the city continues to spend scarce money to build and maintain day laborer hiring sites, despite the fact that most of the people who seek work at them are illegal aliens. In addition to siphoning off jobs from legal residents, the city is contributing to conditions that allow both the employers and the employees to avoid paying taxes.
The federal government, which after Sept. 11 claims to be serious about dealing with massive illegal immigration, can send a strong message to state and local governments. State and local governments that go out of their way to provide services and benefits to illegal aliens, or that refuse to cooperate in federal immigration law enforcement efforts, should not be eligible for federal assistance to offset the costs of illegal immigration.
As long as the city and county of Los Angeles do not want to be part of the solution to massive illegal immigration, they remain a big part of the problem. Until that changes, they should not expect a lot of help from the rest of the country.