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
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.
child in school costs on average $7,000 per year
and the state picks up most of the tab.
- 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
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 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. The
“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
Did anyone mention that importing legions of unskilled
defeated 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
Filipino 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,
- 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
strawberries 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
deliveries 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
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
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 do.
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
- In 1986, I attended
a local seminar on the legal documentation required
for new hires. The human resources director for a
large resort hotel told
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.
don`t know what current rates are but the scam is the
same and it results in a big financial reward for hiring
- 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
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
Do you suppose the
IRS checks to make sure that all the dependents are
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
her] 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