You're Viewing the Archives
Return to IVN's Frontpage

California Counties No Longer Funding Healthcare for Undocumented Immigrants

by Mytheos Holt, published

Having finally realized their exceedingly precarious situation, it appears that many of California's counties have finally decided to reject unfunded, unjustified mandates, even if it tugs at a few of the administrators' heartstrings.

Fresh on the heels of the state's petition for more federal aid to help in keeping track of undocumented repeat offenders, a number of California counties now have decided that rather than reserving their anger for the criminally active undocumented worker population (who are in the hands of the state government), they will instead take little steps towards budgetary wisdom in their own communities. The Los Angeles Times reports that: "Forced to slash their budgets, some California counties are eliminating nonemergency health services for illegal immigrants."

This move marks something of a step toward sanity by California's governmental officials, who have recently seemed to be going through a political five stages of grief, with a fixation on the "denial" phase. Needless to say, a large number of dubiously practical ideas were advanced during this phase, most of which further alienated confidence in the government, and so it's nice to see that officials are finally beginning to accept that a few pet projects will have to fall by the wayside.

This one in particular seems common-sensical from a moral perspective - after all, as anti-illegal immigration activist Barbara Coe put it, these people "have absolutely no right, No. 1, to be here and, No. 2, to take the tax dollars of law-abiding American taxpayers for anything." In fact, one could make the argument (as Ms. Coe probably does) that if her group's own pet project, Proposition 187 (which was supposed to bar the state from providing public services to illegal immigrants) hadn't been stalled in court, a lot of the budget crisis wouldn't exist. Such logic is certainly convincing.

Still, there are objections which deserve to be considered, if only for the sake of refuting them. The first - and the one cited by the Times most prominently - is that "this will only shift the burden to hospital emergency rooms." Or, to put it more generally, this will actually result in a higher net consumption of California taxpayer dollars paying for illegal immigrants, one way or another. However, this argument (especially where the emergency room is concerned) can be easily mitigated in its danger. For instance, according to David Hayes-Bautista of the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, "study after study shows that illegal immigrants are less likely than U.S.-born residents to go to the doctor or seek regular medical care."

Bautista intended the above quotation to be an injunction against this measure or, to use his words, to prove that "We are mortgaging the future to scrape through the present." That rhetorical accusation will be addressed in a moment, but his comment on studies about illegal immigrant healthcare consumption is actually a bit of a non sequitur at best and counterproductive to his case at worst. If illegal immigrants are less likely to go to the doctor, then depending on how much less likely they are, this may reduce the amount of immigrants who actually bother to seek medical care in the emergency room, which may offset costs, especially if the immigrants are aware of the high costs of medication. Moreover, if Bautista's argument is that illegal immigrants will be more likely to allow their conditions to worsen because of irregular visits, one has to ask what makes the emergency room different, other than the fact that it is accessible via a 911 call. The barriers to medical knowledge surrounding emergency rooms are relatively similar to the barriers to medical knowledge generally, and unless illegal immigrants are exceedingly well-informed about the legal fine points of the medical industry (an unlikely scenario), they are unlikely to perceive a difference.

But of course, for Bautista, the studies and data are ancillary to a larger point - that the problem of illegal immigrant health care won't just go away, and that by sacrificing it in order to balance budgets this year, we may be exacerbating the problem. This objection is persuasive to a degree, but can be answered in several ways. In the first place, debating the fine points of long term policy is a luxury which California's counties no longer have in the same sense that considering the value of one's wallet is no longer an option when one is being mugged. If we don't "mortgage the future" right now, there might not be one for California's infrastructure, this argument would run.

But moreover, Californians have already "mortgaged the future." They have mortgaged it multiple times, in fact. some of them spurred on by the expenses which illegal immigrants bring to the state - about $10.5 billion, all told. Throwing out illegal immigrant health care is not "mortgaging the future." In fact, to use the mortgage metaphor, it's more like cleaning squatters out of one's already triple-mortgaged house. Of course, if the border were secure in any meaningful sense, we might be able to get rid of some of the costs permanently, but that's a concern for after we've paid off our triple mortgages on the future.

That is, assuming the state hasn't bought the farm.

About the Author