Counties Worried About Potential Costs of Immigration Reform

Local and state officials believe the immigration overhaul bill will encourage those in the country illegally to come out of the shadows and turn to local services during the proposed 13-year-long pathway to citizenship.
by | May 13, 2013

By Richard Simon

As Congress takes up immigration reform, Los Angeles County officials are voicing concerns that local taxpayers will be "left holding the bag" to pay for the brunt of healthcare and other services for the multitudes of immigrants who apply for citizenship.

Local and state officials believe the overhaul bill will encourage those in the country illegally to come out of the shadows and turn to local services during the proposed 13-year-long pathway to citizenship.

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"The one thing that's really clear as day is that the federal government is going to be protecting itself against costs, and we're going to be left holding the bag," said Mark Tajima, an analyst with the county's chief administrative office.

In Washington last week for the start of the debate, county officials, including Supervisors Don Knabe and Zev Yaroslavsky, warned of a "major cost shift" to state and local governments from the proposed legislation and pressed Congress to provide federal aid to help cover future costs.

Officials could not, however, provide a figure on the potential tab. Instead, as they made the rounds on Capitol Hill, they pointed to the $800 million the county received in the last big immigration overhaul signed by President Reagan in 1986.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), after meeting with county officials, brought up the county's concerns at the Judiciary Committee meeting and directed her staff to look into the possibility of creating a "state impact assistance" fund, similar to the $4 billion provided to local and state governments in the 1986 bill.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a leading critic of the bill, has cited the potential costs to taxpayers in assailing the measure.

In its current form, the bill would bar most immigrants seeking legal status from receiving federal benefits, such as food stamps and Medicaid, during the years it would take to become legal residents or U.S. citizens.

The bill requires the federal government to have a plan to gain almost total control of the border, authorizing money for drones, customs officers and prosecution of illegal entries.

People now in the country without legal status would be eligible for provisional status if they paid fees, fines and taxes. They could gain legal residency 10 years after the border was declared secure. After 13 years, they would be eligible for citizenship.

(c)2013 Los Angeles Times

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