Immigration Moments That Changed A California Budget Analyst`s Mind

by Linda Thom:

How Much Is That Strawberry In The Window?

After almost 20 years working for a California county, I
retired from my job as a budget analyst in the County
Administrator`s Office.

retired early because I could see no end to

California`s budget problems.

Although the stock market craziness generated tax
revenue at the end of the decade and paid the rising
costs of education, welfare and health care, the bust
followed the boom. Tax revenue plummeted. Costs
continued to rise.

In less than 10 words, California`s biggest budget
problem is Third World immigrants with lots of

Income tax is the largest source of revenue for the

  • Residents who earn
    less than $20,000 per year pay only 2 to 3 percent of
    all income taxes collected.



  • During the 1990s,
    immigrant women accounted for 45 percent of births
    (and keep in mind that immigrants also have
    foreign-born children in California schools).


  • Currently, Hispanic
    women give birth to more than three children per
    woman. One can easily see that 3 times $7,000 per year
    for education costs is more than most Hispanic
    immigrants earn in a year.

Immigrants do not pay
their way
And although it`s really pretty easy to understand for
someone as smart as The Terminator (or Governor of
California as it were), no one is talking about it.
Education is the big ticket item but immigration nickels
and dimes public coffers in ways that taxpayers cannot
even imagine.

Even university “authorities” on the subject make
fools of themselves. For example, some time ago, I heard
a University of Michigan scholar on National Public
Radio. The discussion on NPR centered around the

40-year anniversary of the War on Poverty.
“authority” noted that the only success of Lyndon
Johnson`s War on Poverty was the decrease in elderly
poor people caused by the Social Security program.
(Honest, he really said that.)  Otherwise, the poverty
rate remains


Did anyone mention that importing legions of unskilled

the War on Poverty?  Nope.

As a budget analyst, I had no great epiphany on
immigration. The knowledge came in little dribbles that
I call “immigration moments.”

Some of the more interesting immigration moments:

  • In 1989, a big outbreak of measles occurred in Santa
    Barbara County schools.  Beth, my 17-year-old
    daughter needed a measles booster, as did her high
    school peers.   Children who entered in
    kindergarten presented proof of shots but sadly, older
    children who entered school from

    outside the district did not.

Dr. Alan Chovil, the county`s head of epidemiology, told
me that we had to purchase MMR vaccine and hire
additional, Spanish-speaking nurses and health aides.
Of course, the county had not budgeted for special
booster clinics, nurses and health aides.

  • Then a BIG story hit the papers A Mexican woman,
    in the country less than a week, goes to

    Marian Medical Center

    in Santa Maria. She
    has late-stage TB and is saved…and that`s the good
    news.  The bad news: she is an illegal alien who

    lives with 17 people,
    including children, in an
    apartment and doesn`t speak Spanish let alone English.

Dr. Chovil tells me we must hire health aides who speak
Spanish and Mixteco. (Yes, that is apparently a

The aides would travel with the public health nurses to
try to reach everyone the woman has come in contact
with. They don`t want to be contacted by the friendly
government nurses, because they are often illegal

None of this is in the budget, of course.

  • In the early 1990`s, Dr. Chovil advised me that a

    TB epidemic
    exists in the county.  I asked if they
    were illegal aliens.  Apparently, most of them were

    immigrants, who had

    latent TB
    which probably became active because of
    the stress associated with immigrating.
    Moreover, the TB spread into the AIDS community.

Of course, we had not budgeted for a TB epidemic.

  • The same year, Dr. Chovil, the bearer of bad news,
    told me that all public health employees and jail
    personnel must take a hepatitis prevention regimen
    because of exposure to the


Where did this come from?  Yes, immigration—mostly from
Mexico and Central America.

How many kinds of hepatitis are there?  ABC and now a D,
I think.

  • Starting in the 1970`s, Santa Barbara County
    experienced a baby boom in the agricultural north.
    Then and now, the mothers speak Spanish and do not
    have health insurance.  Picking

    does not come with health benefits.


mothers do
not qualify for Medi-Cal (Medicaid) and
are euphemistically called “self-pay patients.”

minimum-wage strawberry pickers
are poor, they do
not pay.  Under state law, the county must provide
service regardless of immigration status or ability to
pay—more properly, inability to pay.

  • In the late 1980`s, the Federal Government began
    paying for baby

    for legal and illegal immigrants, But it
    did not and still does not cover pre-natal care or any

    other kind of care
    , except in emergency cases.

Uncompensated care, therefore, continues to be a big
issue for health care providers.

  • In the 1990`s, a group of north county doctors and
    Marion Hospital officials approached the county and
    asked that the County Government pay for all the poor
    people coming into the hospital and to the doctors`

The head of Health Care Services and I told them that
the county was not responsible for their bad debt.

  • Then came the
    strawberry growers…they wanted the County to
    build low-cost housing for their farm workers.  (I
    know it`s hard to believe, but I swear that I`m not
    joking about this).


  • In the early 1990`s
    the administrator for health services told me that we
    had to redo our patient-records-filing system.  We
    used to keep files by name and social security
    number.  But, interestingly enough, there were 30
    Maria Gonzalez`s, for example—and they all had the
    same social security numbers.  They ranged in age from
    infants to grandmothers.

Once again, I am not joking.

  • Every year I sat on
    the management side of the bargaining table in the
    county`s labor negotiations.  As I crunched the
    numbers and wrote tentative agreements for signature,
    I took little part in the discussions at the table.
    Sometimes, to try to understand the union members`
    demands, I asked questions.

One year, the eligibility workers who interview welfare
applicants wanted an increase in their

bilingual allowance
.  They said that the
Spanish-speaking caseload standards were the same as the
English-case load standards and that wasn`t fair.

The obvious question—why wasn`t it fair?

Answer: it takes longer to help the Spanish-speaking

My suggested solution:

Translate all forms into Spanish.

Answer:  All forms are in Spanish.

My question:  So why does it take longer to process
Spanish-speaking clients?

Answer:  They are unsophisticated and don`t know the
ways of American bureaucracy.

Now, I am really confused.

tell them that I don`t understand. I`m not opposed to an
increase in bilingual allowance. But I just don`t get
it—most welfare recipients are not very
sophisticated.  Half the population has

an IQ lower than 100
and the lower half is not
feigning their slow thinking.

As I had known most of the eligibility workers for
years, they decided to trust me and tell me the real
reason.    Many of the Spanish-speaking clients are just
that.  They only speak Spanish—they don`t read or
write it.

also asked: why were so many immigrants receiving
welfare? I thought they weren`t eligible.  T

Answer: only U.S. citizens get welfare. My question:
Then who are these U.S. citizens who cannot read or
write Spanish, let alone English?

Answer:  They don`t get welfare.  Their

U.S.-born children

At the time the “child-only” cases made up 45
percent of the increased caseload in the county.

We can assume the children shared their benefits with
their parents.

  • In 1986, I attended
    a local seminar on the legal documentation required
    for new hires.  The human resources director for a
    large resort hotel
    me that he didn`t know how many illegal aliens they
    had hired, but that it

    helped the bottom line.

expected to hear about paying

slave wages
. But no, that wasn`t it.  Illegal
aliens are not eligible for unemployment insurance
So when they are laid off after the summer season and
the Christmas holidays, they don`t apply for benefits.

As employers` rates
varied from 3 to 7 percent of

on claims filed, employers could save 4 percent of
payroll by hiring illegal aliens for

temporary jobs.

don`t know what current rates are but the scam is the
same and it results in a big financial reward for hiring
illegal aliens.

  • Speaking of tax
    scams, in the 1990`s I was reviewing a table from the
    California Franchise Tax Board

    that collects state income taxes. I noted that on 1990
    state income taxes filed in

    Imperial County
    just east of San Diego, there were more tax
    filers, joint filers and dependents than there were
    people counted in the 1990 census

forget how many more but it was thousands, maybe
70,000.  I called the state and was told that filers can
claim dependents that live in Mexico or Canada.  (Also,
at the time, California gave a renters` tax credit and
so the filers were getting money back from the state,
not paying taxes.)

The Federal Government also allows tax filers to claim
Mexican dependents.

Do you suppose the

IRS checks
to make sure that all the dependents are
real people?

If President Bush`s guest worker proposal becomes law,
will guest workers be able to claim the Earned Income
Tax Credit by claiming dependents that live in Mexico?

(This is what retired budget analysts think about in
their free time.)

As the possibility exists that these immigration moments
have made you grumpy, I choose to share a lighter

In 1997, I was on a federal jury in Los Angeles.  The
Mexican plaintiffs did not speak English, so a
translator interpreted throughout the trial.

The jurors couldn`t understand why the Mexican
plaintiffs` son who died was buried in Michigan.  I
explained that he was buried in Michoacan.

During jury deliberations, one of the jurors who had
recently moved from Iowa asked why the plaintiffs did
not bring in their checks to show their costs.

told her that the plaintiffs could not read or write so
they didn`t have checkbooks.

None of the other jurors had noticed that the plaintiffs
could not spell their names when they were sworn in.

Twenty-five years ago, without my immigration moments, I
would have been just as confused as my fellow jurors.


Occupied America
, Americans have a hard time
comprehending all the ways that immigration makes our
lives more complicated—and more expensive.

Linda Thom [email
] is a retiree who fled California three years
ago. She formerly worked as an officer for a major bank
and as a budget analyst for the County Administrator of
Santa Barbara.