California Recession + Illegal Immigration = ?
As budget deficits have become a source of widely felt anxiety in California, any and all costs that can be argued as "unnecessary" are being reevaluated. When times get tough in the Golden State, one of the first issues that lawmakers and popular media probe involves the state's financial obligations to its illegal immigrant population (estimated to be roughly 7% of the California population). Today as debate over this issue starts to build once again, I think it's important to situate our questions and opinions within the larger history of illegal immigration in the United States so as to guide more effective and beneficial decisions as a state.The Los Angeles Times ran a front page article on July 10, 2009 entitled "Illegal Immigration Costs Again a Hot Topic," describing the certain options being considered by lawmakers in Sacramento, concerning capping costs associated with illegal immigrant population. The article noted that the growing political support for cutting welfare benefits going to illegal immigrants' children (even though the children might have been born in the United States) in an effort to save $640 million annually. Now, isn't there better ways to cut back on state funds than by denying children welfare benefits? Of course there is, but the logic that motivates such an initiative has been similar throughout American history and is worth analyzing.Interrogation of state policies and funding geared towards illegal immigrants commonly stems from citizens' perception that there's not enough housing, jobs, and money for an ever-increasing number of people to live well. This logic is mathematically valid, but has been translated into problematic legislation in the past.In the midst of widespread fears of unemployment and financial instability during the Great Depression, California politicians painted a picture illegal immigrants severely draining state resources and supported increased enforcement of repatriation for any persons unable to provide proof of legal residence. Historian Pheobe Kropp reports, "Despite the fact that Mexicans, both immigrants and citizens, constituted only 10 percent of county welfare rolls early in the depression, a rate lower than their proportion of the population, and the fact that regardless of size, Mexican families received only $20 per month while Anglos received $30, reports circulated widely that 70 percent of all public funds were going to Mexicans." Such exaggerated reports prompted LAPD and immigration officers to aggressively start barricading popular public attractions like Olvera street (February 26, 1931) unannounced and demand proof of citizenship with the threat of immediate deportation. Such harsh and sudden public action towards illegal immigrants in this instance demonstrates the problems with government leaders and agencies acting out of a combination of misinformation as well as a frenzy of fear and frustration. Think about it, if public authorities were to start barricading today's local popular areas like the Grove or Dodger Stadium, people would be outraged.A less confrontational, but severe act against illegal immigrants came more recently in 1994 as California voters passed Prop 187, the "Save Our State" initiative. Prop 187 denied anyone unable to provide proof of their legal residency access to healthcare, public education, and others social services, effectively obliging doctors, teachers, and social workers to check legal resident documentation before providing their services. The proposition similarly stemmed from a fear of there not being enough services to support both the legal and illegal residents of California. Despite the justified concerns of California voters, the law was deemed unconstitutional by in higher courts.As immigration becomes a hot topic again in California's political and economic debates, it worth considering the misguided legislation of the past in order to determine better initiatives for the future. Barricading crowds of people in public spaces or denying millions access to healthcare, education, and social services did not offer any effective solutions in the past, so we should recognize that denying illegal immigrants' children food stamps and welfare checks is not going solve today's economic crisis. Breaking from history with new political thought is a must, and it is going to have start with a commitment to the needs of all Californians.