HUMAN TSUNAMI; California Reels under the Impact of Immigrants

Article excerpt

Byline: Valerie Richardson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

LOS ANGELES - Ines Netkin lives in a neat, ranch-style home in middle-class Los Angeles County, but she worries that her neighborhood is starting to look like it belongs south of the border."It used to be nice to live around here, but it's deteriorating. We have dirty streets, traffic jams, more crime. It's not the way it used to be," Mrs. Netkin said. "I feel like it's going to become like Mexico City. Right now, if you closed your eyes and opened them in downtown Los Angeles, you would think that you were in Mexico City."

Mrs. Netkin should know. Born Ines Acevedo, she left her home in Mexico City 15 years ago and came to Los Angeles as an illegal alien. She worked as a nanny, learned to speak and write English, and then became a legal U.S. resident by marrying one.

Now she regards with frustration the Hispanic immigrants she sees taking over her San Fernando Valley Van Nuys neighborhood, packing 20 persons into single-family homes, turning the local stores into Spanish-only tiendas, leaving their burnt-out stoves and infested mattresses in the alley behind her house, slowly but surely driving out their middle-class neighbors.

"It wouldn't be so bad if they would adapt to our ways, but they don't. We have to adapt to their ways," Mrs. Netkin said. "Whatever happened to, 'When in Rome'?"

There's more than a little irony to Mrs. Netkin's views, but her experience also sums up the best and worst aspects of the illegal-immigration wave spilling over Los Angeles. On the one hand, there are immigrants such as Mrs. Netkin, 41, who crossed illegally but took a job that most natives wouldn't. She accepted lower pay, then assimilated into the culture and became a productive, voting citizen.

On the other hand, there are the knotty social and economic problems that inevitably arise when millions of mostly poor, uneducated job-seekers who don't speak English descend upon a metropolitan area without pausing to let the system catch its breath.

"Illegal immigration has imposed a catastrophic impact on taxpayers and seriously crippled our public school system," said Mike Antonovich, a 21-year member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. "While we need legal immigration, which is essential, illegal immigration has been detrimental to the economy and to our quality of life."

Inundation

There's no doubt that Los Angeles has benefited from the infusion of hard-working illegal workers who clean hotel rooms, bus restaurant tables, and otherwise keep its billion-dollar tourism industry humming.

Raphael Sonenshein, author of a book on racial politics in Los Angeles, said that a recognition of their work ethic has reduced tension over illegal aliens. There's less volatility over the issue than there was in 1994, when voters approved Proposition 187, which would have cut services to illegal immigrants.

The measure, approved by voters with 60 percent of the vote, was later struck down in court.

"Things have changed. For one thing, you see that people are working, so the idea that these people are here for welfare isn't as prevalent," said Mr. Sonenshein, a political science professor at California State University at Fullerton. "It's true that you have people using services, but they also contribute to the economy."

But the number of illegal immigrants in Los Angeles County has grown so great, critics say, that the benefits of their labor are far outweighed by the costs they impose on the city's social-services network. The county hospitals, the school system, the jails and other services are groaning under the weight of the unending human tsunami from Mexico.

California swelled by 4.2 million people from 1990 to 2000, and nearly all of that growth came from immigration, primarily from Mexico, Latin America and Asia. Without those immigrants and their children, the native population would have increased by fewer than 100,000, according to Californians for Population Stabilization. …