By Laura Keslar
Illustration by Arnie Bermudez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Despite the popular myth that mass illegal immigration poses no burden on the system, undocumented immigrants place a huge financial load on the state of Arizona, to the point that one county spends more than 35 percent of its revenue on illegal residents. As a result of these increasing costs, residents across the state have rallied together to place Proposition 200, or Protect Arizona Now, on the ballot this fall.
Along with requiring proof of citizenship when registering to vote and a valid picture ID when voting, the proposition will require local and state government agencies to refuse to give public benefits other than those federally mandated to non-citizens.
Nevertheless, in spite of the hype it has garnered, PAN will not reduce the most significant costs imposed by illegal immigrants because many are associated with federally mandated benefits, which Proposition 200 cannot affect.
After Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon's criticism of the proposition appeared in the Arizona Republic, Kathy McKee, the state director of PAN, responded to his condemnation by saying that the elimination of medical benefits given to illegals would alone save "hundreds of millions of dollars."
According to the Federation of American Immigration Reform, an estimated $400 million a year has been spent by the state on providing health care to Arizona's illegal population. The "hundreds of millions of dollars" that McKee says can be saved roughly translates into the same amount provided by FAIR, which includes all of the uncompensated health care costs due to illegal immigration.
While McKee might like to think that the entire $400 million spent a year on illegal aliens comes solely from public benefits not affected by federal regulations, her perception of the situation conflicts with the study presented by FAIR. The organization compiled all of the unpaid expenses, including those of federally mandated emergency health care services and the state's version of Medicaid, AHCCCS. And because the federal government dictates that all emergency health care services must be provided to a patient regardless of citizenship, a portion of the $400 million cited by FAIR cannot be reduced even if Proposition 200 were passed. In addition, only a small portion of that total amount will be affected by the proposition, since only 20 percent of those enrolled in AHCCCS take advantage of the service.
Additionally, Proposition 200 will have no effect on education expenses incurred by illegals due to the Supreme Court ruling in Plyler vs. Doe, that elementary and secondary education cannot be denied to students, regardless of their citizenship. As a result, the state spends over $820 million to educate illegal immigrants, according to a study by FAIR. Moreover, with the newly imposed cost of all-day kindergarten, initially that expenditure will likely rise as the children of illegal aliens take advantage of the change.
While Proposition 200's effort to subdue the costs caused by the influx of illegal immigrants into the state of Arizona are appreciated, the difference it makes will likely be minimal and, in fact, the costs of implementation might far exceed the benefits proposed by the supporters of the proposition.
According to the governor's office, Proposition 200 has the potential to cost over $27 million. Even if the expense of implementing the proposal has been exaggerated, as Kathy McKee seems to believe, the costs still appear to be too much for such little financial benefit. Instead saving the "hundreds of millions of dollars" that McKee suggested would be the result of just eliminating illegal immigrants' health care benefits, the proposition will add even more debt to the state's $300 million budget deficit.
While PAN has some good ideas, like enforcing current laws that restrict voting to legal residents and requiring proof of citizenship, it does not fulfill the needs of the state that it purposes to benefit. It does not reduce the flow of illegal aliens into the state and, because of that, the costs associated with illegal immigration will remain high as Arizona continues to shell out money to pay for the ever-increasing influx of undocumented workers.
Laura Keslar is a pre-pharmacy junior. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.