Magazine article Insight on the News

Has Immigration Become Voter-Registration Drive?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Has Immigration Become Voter-Registration Drive?

Article excerpt

Considering the level of federal as well as state benefits immigrants have been receiving and the rate at which they are flooding the country, GOP critics have been wondering whether liberal opposition to welfare reform wasn't just a cover for Democratic partisans who are trying to bring in swarms of new voters to serve their political interest.

In the closing days of the 104th Congress, just before the election recess, the fight about immigration became one of the nastier battles in recent memory. Congressional negotiators spent weeks lobbing rhetorical grenades at each other, all because of a simple but significant amendment sponsored by California Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly in the immigration-reform bill that would have allowed the states to deny public education to the children of illegal aliens.

Liberals went ballistic over the provision, arguing it was unfair to punish children for the crime of a parent. Besides, it doesn't require a public education to know that creating a class of citizens who cannot read might lead to even greater social pathologies among them - such as crime.

Still, the issue for Gallegly was, and is, the increasing cost to states of providing public services to people who break the law by sneaking across the border. He has estimated that 250,000 children of illegal aliens live in Los Angeles County, so he's very interested in halting a free ride on the gravy train. The issue also has energized Republicans as liberal as California Gov. Pete Wilson. During the House debate on Galleglys measure, GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole said "if the liberal Democrats in Congress block consideration of the measure, then the citizens of California will know who to blame - a liberal president who feels no compunction about inflicting a multibillion-dollar burden on California's taxpayers." Nonetheless, the amendment went down in flames.

But the issue isn't going to go away. In 1994, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Nevada filed lawsuits to force the federal government to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of educating, incarcerating and providing other services to illegal aliens. The states argued the federal government was responsible for controlling immigration and thus was responsible for covering costs associated with the problem.

Consider the costs Florida alone has incurred, say immigration critics: In 1993, Dade County public schools had 16,474 illegals registered at a cost of $67.9 million, according to the Miami Herald, while Jackson Hospital wrote off $93 million for immigrant care in 1992. Even the Urban Institute, which supports immigration reform but did not support the new, prolonged ban on immigrants receiving welfare benefits, concedes illegal aliens cost the states a bundle.

Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Texas are teeming with illegal aliens. In 1994, the institute reported, 641,000 illegals were attending public schools in those states - 307,000 in California alone. California said the cost was $2.1 billion a year, while the Urban Institute pegged the cost at $1.2 billion. Yet the Urban Institute says Arizona's cost was $55 million, while the state reported $44 million. At either figure, the expense is staggering. Also, across those seven states, and undoubtedly in others, illegal aliens constitute an increasing percentage of the prison population. The Urban Institute put the total illegal-immigrant prison population for those seven at 21,395. Total cost, using the institute's estimate, was $127,583 per inmate per year.

But these are just the illegals. Increasingly, public-policy analysts are saying immigrants in general are a drain on the public treasury - not only of the states but also of the federal government.

That's the argument of George Borjas, an economist at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Borjas' scholarship, if accurate, presents a compelling case for those who want to limit immigration in general, not just track down those who scurry cross the border under cover of night. …

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