California Counties No Longer Funding Healthcare for Undocumented Immigrants

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.