COUNTY TAKES NEXT STEP IN RECOVERING COSTS OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS
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
Improve information sharing between Immigrations and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement
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.
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
Now, What Do We Do With the Results?
We acknowledge that working undocumented immigrants
make an economic contribution to the community, but...
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
Prepared by John R. Weeks , Ph.D. for presentation to the Board of
Supervisors on 25 September 2007
Last revised 24 September 2007
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