Supervisor Horn's Recommendations Sent to Congress

SAN DIEGO – The San Diego County Board of Supervisors today unanimously approved Fifth District Supervisor Bill Horn’s recommendations to recover the County of San Diego’s costs of services to undocumented immigrants. The action comes following the release of a study by San Diego State University that shows county taxpayers picking up the tab for $101 million a year in County services to people in the country illegally.

“We can’t stop the problem of people being in our country illegally,” said Horn, “however, we have to pay for it and we want our money back from the federal government.”

Supervisor Horn and Congressman Brian Bilbray are partnering to work through the Immigration Reform Caucus of which Bilbray is Chair. The County of San Diego will request Congressman Bilbray address three action areas:

  • Improve information sharing between Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement
  • Direct dollars from the Social Security Administration (SSA) “earnings suspense file” to the County of San Diego (this is money paid in by people with social security numbers that do not match SSA records)
  • Restructure the Medicare Modernization Act to distribute funding to cover more of the burden on local hospitals (estimated last year at $150 million)

Co-author of the study, Professor John Weeks, Ph.D., spoke at the Board meeting and said, “County taxpayers are subsidizing Social Security, not undocumented immigrants.” He also called the $2 million reimbursement by the federal government for approximately $70 million in law enforcement costs “paltry.”

“The reality of what’s happening,” said Supervisor Horn, “is that $89.21 is being stolen from every legal resident in San Diego County to pay for services and medical costs for people who are in the country illegally. That’s outrageous.”

Note: A summary of Professor Weeks’ comments are attached and may also be accessed on Supervisor Horn’s Fifth District Website at www.sdcounty.ca.gov.

Contact: John Culea – 619 531-4709 Cell: 619 548-1765 Fax: 619 685-2662


Estimating the Cost to the County of San Diego, California,
of Services Delivered to Undocumented Immigrants
During FY 2006-07

Summary of Results:

At Supervisor Horn’s request, and in collaboration with the Border Counties Coalition, a colleague of mine and I have prepared estimates of the expenditures made by the county government of San Diego to or on behalf of undocumented immigrants during the fiscal year 2006-07. We have calculated that last year the County of San Diego spent $101 million providing such services. About three-fourths of this cost is associated with public safety, for which the county received a paltry reimbursement of scarcely more than $2 million from the U.S. Department of Justice’s State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP). The other $26 million in costs associated with undocumented immigrants was spent in the areas of health and human services, and environmental issues within parks and recreation.

We estimate that there were about 200,000 undocumented immigrants in the county last year, so the cost per undocumented immigrant was $527 per immigrant. Looked at from the taxpayer cost perspective, the cost per resident of San Diego County in 2006 was $35.31. This does not include the extensive community costs associated with unreimbursed medical costs, nor the costs associated with educating the children of undocumented immigrants, because these costs are not borne directly by county government.

Now, What Do We Do With the Results?

    1. We acknowledge that working undocumented immigrants make an economic contribution to the community, but...

    2. the issue for the Board is that it is very unlikely that they put back into County coffers the amount of money that is spent providing services to them or on their behalf. Why is that? It’s because two of the most important revenue sources for County government in California are property taxes and sales tax
      1. Since undocumented immigrants are almost all low-wage earners they are going to be spending less money per person within the county than the average resident. Furthermore, we know that undocumented immigrants are more likely than legal immigrants to send remittances back to Mexico, which obviously lowers the fraction of their income that is spent locally.
      2. Low wage earners are also much less likely than others to own a home. Thus, their contribution to property taxes will be through rent they pay. But, since they are most apt to seek low rent, this will most likely to be in older homes or apartments with a lower tax base (those with low taxes and low mortgage payments that allow the owners to rent the space for less money).


  1. It is, of course, widely accepted that many undocumented immigrants pay social security taxes that will never be returned to them as a pension because they have used an invalid number. These taxes paid by undocumented immigrants go into the Social Security Administration’s “earnings suspense file,” when the Social Security number does not match SSA’s records. The New York Times reports that this number is about $7 billion annually.
    1. At present this money helps to subsidize the Social Security system which will soon be running a deficit as the Baby Boomers retire, so that’s a good thing from a national perspective.
    2. However, some portion of that money should, in fact, be coming back to the counties of residence of the immigrants, to help cover their costs. To the extent that Social Security Administration keeps the money that should come back to the county, it is essentially the County taxpayer who is subsidizing social security, not the undocumented immigrants.

  2. It is also widely accepted that two different aspects of federal policy have encouraged undocumented immigrants to settle in the United States, rather than circulate between Mexico and the United States as they were more likely to do in the past. In the process, these policies have increased the likelihood that undocumented immigrants will seek services in the U.S.
    1. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) has encouraged more recent immigrants to believe that if they reside continuously in the U.S., they may have a better chance of becoming legal during an amnesty program.
    2. The beefed up border enforcement, especially after 9/11, has made it more dangerous and costly to cross the border, which encourages people to stay, and thus to have a family in the U.S., rather than returning to Mexico (remember that most such migrants are between the ages of 18 and 34).
  3. The argument I would make is that since federal policy has directly increased the probability that undocumented immigrants will stay in the community and need and seek services—or have services performed on their behalf—the federal government must own up to its responsibility to local government. It can do that, in part, by allocating a portion of the Social Security Administration “earnings suspense file” money to counties such as San Diego, which have clearly been impacted.

  4. The SCAAP program, which as already noted provides a small reimbursement to the Sheriff’s department for the detention of undocumented immigrants, also needs to be severely revamped. The absence of adequate federal border population-flow controls, combined with the transnational crime that occurs at international borders (trafficking in humans and narcotics, for example) increases the likelihood that local governments will have to deal with border-related crime. This holds true in San Diego just as it does in the other major population centers along the border. While undocumented persons as a group may not be more likely to commit "state" crimes than others, there is a significant subset of illegal border crossers who are part of criminal groups operating within San Diego County and Baja California. Where border controls are ineffective, our County government has to respond. As a result, San Diego County spends a significant amount of County funds on arresting, jailing, prosecuting, defending, incarcerating, and then deporting criminal aliens, and then dealing with them again when they re-enter the country illegally. Current federal reimbursement for these activities in the form of the SCAAP payment is woefully inadequate, in particular, because it does not recognize the unique circumstance of counties that are adjacent to the border.

I appreciate your attention to these important issues.

Thank you.

Prepared by John R. Weeks , Ph.D. for presentation to the Board of Supervisors on 25 September 2007

Last revised 24 September 2007