Aid Flows to Illegal Immigrants ; in a Controversial Move, States Make It Easier for Families to Get Everything from Drivers' Licenses to Healthcare
Kris Axtman writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Seven years after Californians voted to sharply curtail public benefits to illegal immigrants, a growing number of states are moving to offer more services to those living illegally in this country - sometimes even in defiance of federal rules.
Faced with burgeoning populations of undocumented people, many big Southern states in particular are changing strictures governing access to everything from healthcare to drivers' licenses.
The moves come at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment still runs deep in many parts of the country, and the Republican Party is sharply divided over the possibility that President Bush might liberalize US policy toward illegal immigrants from Mexico.
In just the past few months:
* Texas became the first state to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition instead of the international tuition usually required. California and Minnesota, among others, are considering similar bills.
* Tennessee and Utah removed the need to have a Social Security number to get a driver's license - something that has long been an impediment to illegal immigrants seeking to drive.
* Arizona is struggling with the federal government to continue providing nonemergency healthcare to illegal immigrants who need special treatments, such as dialysis, something they have been doing for years with state funds.
Overall, "there is a growing movement of support for providing services to undocumented immigrants," says Tatcho Mindiola, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston. "People are beginning to recognize the important role they play in society."
Not every state, of course, is suddenly turning completely benevolent. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry (R) recently vetoed legislation that would have allowed illegal immigrants in the state to obtain drivers' licenses. He said existing laws already provide ways for foreign nationals to do so.
Other states are trying to provide certain benefits to undocumented immigrants, but are being stymied by the federal government - particularly in the area of healthcare.
Help now or get hit later
Arizona's healthcare fight is one of the most visible examples. Voters there passed a proposition to expand healthcare insurance to the working poor.
But to receive financial help from the federal government, the state had to make some concessions - one of which was to stop funding nonemergency care to those who are undocumented.
At present, Washington provides money for those who are illegal only for emergency-room visits. So, come Oct. 1, some 200 Arizona immigrants getting chemotherapy and other such treatments will be on their own.
"We see those services as an outgrowth of emergency care," says Frank Lopez, a spokesman with the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. …