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Sticking it to California

Illegal immigration costs everyone. So why is Washington forcing expensive new rules on the state?

October 06, 2008

To the long list of things California doesn't need right now, let's add the transformation of an efficient government program into a money waster. The blame if this happens won't belong with the Legislature or the governor, or anyone in Sacramento, but about 3,000 miles east.

As Times staff writer Jordan Rau reported Friday, the Bush administration is demanding that the state change the way it counts illegal immigrants who seek medical and education services through California's Family Planning, Access, Care and Treatment Program. By helping impoverished women avoid unwanted pregnancies, Family PACT has helped reduce abortion rates in the state and saves California and the federal government $1.4 billion in publicly funded maternity care, welfare and schools.

The federal government pays for part of the program -- but not for services to illegal immigrants. The state picks up that cost. Up to now, the state has used a statistical formula to calculate the number of illegal immigrants who use Family PACT. Suddenly, the Bush administration is giving the state 30 days to switch to a system in which each client would be individually vetted for legal residency, a ridiculously inefficient arrangement that would increase the state's costs by an estimated 40%.

But the administration's demand isn't just wasteful; it's duplicitous. Immigration is a responsibility of the federal government, not the state. In fact, the feds should be stepping up to pay the full costs for illegal immigrants. The presence of immigrants in California who lack the legal status to use many public services represents a dual failure on the part of the federal government: It has neither prevented illegal immigration nor enacted comprehensive immigration reform to resolve the conundrum within its borders.

Instead, California, which has no authority to change the situation, picks up the costs and is being called on to do the work of federal immigration agents as well, while the feds are held to no accountability for their own failures. Ordinarily, we'd say this dispute could be resolved amicably with an audit every five or 10 years to confirm whether the state's statistical formula is accurate. But the administration's demand is extortionate. True, the federal government shouldn't be picking up part of the tab for 86% of the women aided by this valuable program. It should be helping to pay for all of them.

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