Illegal Immigration in California: Impact and Possible Solutions

Perhaps one of the biggest problems facing Californians today, illegal immigration costs Californians over $10 billion per year and results in decreased job opportunities and higher unemployment among legal citizens, a rise in illegal drug trafficking and the violence associated with it, the return of diseases that were once considered to be cured, and an overall risk to state and national security. In this brief investigation, I shall attempt to outline all the problems that illegal immigration is causing Californians and how some of these issues have extended into the domain of national security. I will also discuss some of the proposed solutions from all sides in terms of dealing with illegal immigrants.

Not Just Money: the “Cost” of Illegal Immigration

According to the US Department of Homeland Security, California has the largest population of illegal immigrants in the United States, totaling 2.6 million illegal immigrants in 2009.[1] Over the past 20 years, California’s unemployment rate for legal residents has more than doubled[2], and illegal immigration is mostly to blame. Lax security measures combined with the fact that companies are able to hire undocumented workers for well-below minimum wage makes it extremely difficult for a legal worker to find a low-skill job in California. A popular argument in support of illegal immigrant labor is that illegal aliens do jobs that most Americans won’t do. The problem with this argument is that Americans would do the work of cheap illegal laborers if they were paid a fair wage. According to a study on illegal labor, illegal immigrants are paid on average $5.45 per hour with an annual income of $8,982.[3] Compare this to California’s minimum wage of $8.00 per hour with an annual income of $16,640.[4] That’s nearly double what illegal workers are paid, and as long as companies aren’t under legal pressure to change their ways they will continue to hire cheap illegal labor. “Undocumented workers” as they are called earn money and reap the benefits of living in the United States, but they don’t pay any taxes except for the sales tax. The California sales tax has the highest rate in the nation at 8.25% in 2010.[5] The tax is extremely prohibitive for California’s residents, especially on expensive items, and it needs to be because it’s one of the only taxes that 2.6 million benefit receiving people pay in the state. Some illegal immigrants are known to pay social security tax, but are few and far between, and none of them use real social security numbers, so the state’s best bet is to have a high sales tax. One of the most expensive benefits that illegal aliens receive is absolutely free healthcare. California’s Department of Health Care Services estimated that in 2009, the total cost of healthcare and emergency room visits for illegal immigrants was $1.2 billion[6] in taxpayer money; not to mention the fact that illegal immigrants crowd the emergency rooms for all their diseases since most can’t afford to go to a private clinic. Legal citizens who have actual emergencies can’t get care as fast when everyone with a common cold is in front of them in line! As a result of paying for healthcare for illegal immigrants, California has been forced to close over 70 hospitals[7] since 1996. Most of the hospitals that closed were in southern California, which makes sense since southern California is closer to the US/Mexico border. Illegal immigrant healthcare not only costs a fortune, but it also decreases the availability and quality of care for legal citizens who need it. For a state that is $53 billion[8] in debt, California has no cash to spare supporting healthcare illegal aliens who don’t even pay any taxes to support the system in return.

While healthcare for illegal immigrants may be expensive, another cost comes at the expensive of public health. One disease that has been devastatingly destructive and is largely due to illegal immigration is tuberculosis (TB). According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the TB rate in the US is extremely low (4.6 cases per 100,000 people in 2006),[9] but California’s rate is much higher. In California, TB rates are higher, and the CDC reports that “seven states (California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Texas) reported more than 500 cases each for 2006; combined, these seven states accounted for 60% (8,259) of all TB cases.” 9 A leading cause of California’s high TB rates is illegal immigration, as while the US TB rate is low, that of Mexico is 5 times higher than the US national average (20 cases per 100,000 in 2007.)[10] Illegal immigrants are arriving in California while actively carrying the disease, and when outbreaks occur, they spread like wildfire. Dr. Reuben Granich of the CDC linked a new version of TB to illegal immigrants, asserting that:

“Evidence of [the new disease] has surfaced in 38 of 61 California health jurisdictions, and it could ‘threaten the efficacy of TB control efforts,’ Granich said. The infected were said to be four times as likely to die from the disease and twice as likely to transmit the disease to others … Reluctant to label the infected as ‘illegal’ or even ‘undocumented’ aliens, the report notes that of the 407 known cases of MDR-TB, 84% were ‘foreign-born’ patients, mainly from Mexico and the Philippines who’d been in the U.S. less than five years. The percentage of TB cases among the ‘foreign-born’ jumped from 29% in 1993 to 53% as of last year.”[11]

And it’s not just TB. Other diseases such as malaria, leprosy, and even HIV are known to be carried and spread by illegal aliens. It is expensive to treat many of these diseases, as the most expensive TB drugs cost over a million dollars per person.[12] When the unemployment rate and cost of living in California are so high, the last thing it needs are outbreaks of deadly diseases with extremely expensive treatment costs.

The greatest cost to California’s economy regarding illegal immigrants is education. According to a 2004 report by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), illegal immigration is costing the state of California over $10.5 billion per year, and “$7.7 billion a year to school the children of illegal aliens who now constitute 15 percent of the student body.”[13] In addition to the high cost of educating illegal immigrants, the quality of education received is debatable. Bilingual education programs add additional costs to the overwhelming figures above, and arguably do more harm than good for everyone involved, including legal citizens, but since a majority of illegal aliens in schools are English Language Learners, more of these special programs must be put in place. California’s state government, in spite of all of these expenses, is doing everything in its power to help illegal immigrants out, and is even cutting them a break in their education expenses. This November, California’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of a policy that “allowed the state’s higher education institutions to continue their policy of allowing certain unlawful immigrants to pay in-state rates,”[14] meaning that illegal immigrants who don’t pay any taxes to support California’s universities can attend school for the same amount of money as a legal resident who does pay taxes which the cheaper in-state tuitions are meant for. Since the illegal immigrants aren’t paying any taxes, the state is losing money on every illegal they admit to their public universities, which just raises the cost of tuition that much higher for legal residents and out-of-state students who pay the most of all. The University of California has realized that they are losing money, and have approved a plan to raise tuition rates by 8% in 2011.[15] Many California students are recognizing the fact that illegal immigrants combined with existing debts are driving up the price so much for legal residents that it makes no sense to go to a California university, and thus they are moving away to out-of-state schools instead of traditionally going to a California public university, which generates even less revenue for California. This system is not sustainable in the slightest!

Drugs, Terrorists, and Violence: how Illegal Immigration threatens our National Security

Illegal immigration in California isn’t just a threat to California, but to the rest of the country. In addition to the cost of illegal immigration, our national security is also at risk. Drug cartel operations have infiltrated Mexico, and drug lords have bribed Mexican police officers and politicians to insure that their crimes can continue smoothly. These drug cartels most of their weapons from the United States, and illegal immigrants often smuggle drugs and weapons over the border. Border security is notably lacking near California’s southern border. US Border Patrol agents have been fighting a longstanding and costly war on drugs, and in the process over 28,000 people have been killed and over $10 billion have been spent[16] trying to defeat the drug lords. Without secure borders, however, illegal immigrants, whether violent or not, will continue to flood in. The US Border Patrol is far from being as effective as it could be, however, as corrupt patrol agents have been looking the other way or actively assisting terrorists enter the United States, and according to a report on corruption in the Border Patrol, over 60% of US Border Patrol applicants who were given background checks were rejected, and only 10-15% of applicants were screened![17] Kevin Perkins, an FBI investigator, wonders if these corrupt agents are “willing to waive through a carload of drug traffickers or illegal aliens, why wouldn’t they be willing to waive through a carload of terrorists or a vehicle equipped with an explosive device?”17 and his concerns are well-based. During the fall elections of 2010, California voters attempted to legalize marijuana through proposition 19 in the hope that through creating a legal market for recreational use of marijuana, drug cartels would lose their market to in-state competition. Due to decreased demand, supporters of the proposition hoped that these drug lords would stop coming to California, because after all, California is the number one purchaser of marijuana in the United States. During the election, however, prop 19 was defeated, and thus the demand remains the same. Illegal immigrants still have the incentive to cross the border with drugs, and as they say, if there’s a will, there’s a way. Opponents of prop 19 counter-argue that legalizing marijuana wouldn’t do much to stop the border wars. In an investigative report on drug violence and prop 19, David Shirk of the Transborder Institute at San Diego argues that “the reality is that you would probably have to legalize consumption of marijuana throughout the United States, or in several significantly sized states, to have any kind of reverberations here in Mexico,”[18] making it not a very viable option for helping to protect our borders. A much better option: increased border security.

When illegal immigrants are caught committing crimes inside the United States, many are not deported, and instead are taken to state, federal, and local prisons, which, by the numbers, are getting a bit crowded. In 2005, a report by Investor’s Business Daily asserted that “The U.S. Justice Department estimated that 270,000 illegal immigrants served jail time nationally in 2003. Of those, 108,000 were in California. Some estimates show illegals now make up half of California’s prison population, creating a massive criminal subculture that strains state budgets and creates a nightmare for local police forces.”[19] Straining state budgets indeed, as the cost burden of incarceration on the California public totaled $1.4 billion[20] in 2004. When illegal immigrants are released from prison, they are not always deported, and repeat-offenders are common. These illegal immigrants are being fed and given a relatively safer place to live than out on the streets. They pay no taxes, not even sales taxes (since they’re in prison) and they’re getting benefits that legal, homeless citizens are not getting. The worst part is that California’s citizens are paying for these non-citizens to stay in our prisons! What’s wrong with this picture?

Noted by some as an absolutely absurd security hazard while hailed by others as an excellent solution for security hazards, the idea giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants gets people fired up. In an article discussing drivers licenses for illegal aliens, it was stated that proponents of the idea have “argued that there were many illegal immigrants driving without a license, and by giving illegal immigrants the opportunity to obtain a license and pass the required driving test, overall safety would improve.[21] In a 2005 report on the costs of illegal immigration, FAIR argues that “in an increasingly security-conscious America, access to drivers licenses by people in the country illegally poses serious risks and undermines U.S. immigration law… illegal aliens often use aliases and phony documents, so the alien’s identity and residence is not established as a result of the drivers license process.”[22] Main problems with giving drivers licenses to illegal aliens include the fact that it makes it harder to prove that they’re illegal if they have what is usually considered to be a legal identification card. They may learn how to drive better by taking a driving test, but why are they on California’s roads in the first place? Some supporters of the idea go as far to recommend that social security numbers should be given to illegal immigrants, which basically establishes that they can get legal jobs in the United States. Armed with both a driver’s license and a social security number, illegal immigrants could easily pass as legal citizens, and these two plans begin to look very much like amnesty for illegal immigrants.

What to Do: A Look at Possible Solutions to the Problem of Illegal Immigration

While the problems which illegal immigration presents are controversial, most would agree that the current situation is far from ideal. There are many proposed solutions for dealing with illegal immigrants; some say we should actively defend the border and deport all illegal immigrants on sight, while others claim we should simply give them amnesty and citizenship. According to a poll by the Los Angeles Times in October, 2010, “48% [of likely California voters] said immigrants are a benefit to the state, and 59% said illegal immigrants who have held a job here for two years should be allowed to stay,”[23] but the poll was largely comprised of southern Californians and may not reflect the views of the entire state. Deportation of all 2.6 million illegal immigrants would have extraordinary costs, and opponents argue that there would be insufficient forces necessary to locate and transport millions of people back to their native lands in a timely manner, not to mention defending the border at the same time. Some supporters with a less-extreme view on deportation believe the best way is to first deport all of the illegal aliens that are filling California’s prisons, to systematically raid businesses that are suspected of employing illegal immigrants, and to deport all newfound illegal immigrants if they are arrested by the police in unrelated issues. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers routinely go on raids of businesses across the country, and thus far, their involvement has been extremely effective. A report about these so-called ICE Raids in 2008 found that “The enormous sweep, which ended September 27, produced 436 arrests in the San Francisco area, 420 in the Los Angeles area and 301 in the San Diego area. ICE made a point to state that 346 of the people arrested had prior criminal convictions. Of the 1,157 arrested, only 595 had outstanding deportation orders.”[24]

Completely opposed to deportation, those who support amnesty for illegal immigrants are fighting for rights and full citizenship for those who have entered the country illegally. Many supporters also support driver’s licenses and social security numbers for illegal aliens. Opponents say that giving amnesty to illegal aliens would be to reward them for their wrongdoings and would be an insult to all of the legal immigrants who wait their turn in line and work long and hard to meet the difficult requirements to become a legal American citizen. Giving illegal immigrants citizenship would force them to pay taxes, but many are uneducated and wouldn’t make enough to constitute paying any taxes, so the cost of supporting them wouldn’t decrease. Finally, allowing amnesty for illegal aliens was done before in 1986 as part of a bill that the Reagan Administration hoped would help fight illegal immigration[25] but ultimately failed, and is now hurting the cause of current supporters for amnesty for illegal immigrants.

To Conclude:

Illegal immigration is a big problem facing California and the rest of the United States, and many different solutions exist to solve it, with varying forms of success. California has been hit harder by illegal immigration than other border states, and to this day, border security remains a problem.


[1] Los Angeles Times, 2/11/2010: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/feb/11/local/la-me-immig11-2010feb11

[2] Google Public Data, 1990-2010: http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=usunemployment&ctype=l&strail=false&nselm=h&met_y=unemployment_rate&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=state&idim=state:ST060000&tstart=631152000000&tunit=M&tlen=248&hl=en&dl=en

[3] Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), 11/2007: http://www.fairus.org/site/PageServer?pagename=iic_immigrationissuecentersdfe9

[4] Careerbuilder.com, 6/04/2009: http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-1174-The-Workplace-Could-You-Survive-on-Minimum-Wage/

[5] Federation of Tax Administrators, 2/2010: http://www.taxadmin.org/fta/rate/sales.pdf

[6] Contra Costa Times, (archived by Free Republic), 9/12/2009: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/2338410/posts

[7] Los Angeles Times, (archived by Free Republic), 10/20/2007: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1913865/posts

[8] California State Treasurer, 1/01/2010-10/31/2010: http://www.treasurer.ca.gov/cdiac/

[9] CDC, 3/23/2007: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5611a2.htm

[10] USAID, 6/2009: http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/id/tuberculosis/countries/lac/mexico_profile.html

[11] Businessword.com, 6/24/2005 : http://www.businessword.com/index.php/weblog/comments/1598/

[12] The Dark Side of Illegal Immigration, 2010: http://www.usillegalaliens.com/impacts_of_illegal_immigration_diseases.html

[13] About.com, 12/2004: http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/immigrationnaturalizatio/a/caillegals.htm

[14] CNN, 11/15/2010: http://articles.cnn.com/2010-11-15/us/california.immigration.education_1_illegal-immigrants-tuition-rates-immigration-status?_s=PM:US

[15] MSNBC, AP, 11/18/2010: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40257807/

[16] Washington Post, 9/05/2010: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/03/AR2010090302205.html

[17] Federal Times, 5/11/2010: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20100311/DEPARTMENTS03/3110304/1018/DEPARTMENTS

[18] KBPS, 10/11/2010: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/oct/11/many-us-and-mexican-authorities-say-prop-19-will-n/

[19] Newsmax.com, 3/27/2006: http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2006/3/27/114208.shtml

[20] FAIR, 11/2004: http://www.fairus.org/site/PageServer?pagename=iic_immigrationissuecentersffec

[21] US Immigration Support, 2010: http://www.usimmigrationsupport.org/illegalimmigrant-driverslicense.html

[22] ProCon.org, 4/13/2009: http://immigration.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000842#8

[23] Los Angeles Times, 10/24/2010: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-poll-immigration-20101024,0,7897752.story

[24] SocialistWorker.org, 10/06/2008: http://socialistworker.org/2008/10/06/massive-ICE-arrests

[25] New York Times, 5/23/2006: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/23/washington/23amnesty.html

One thought on “Illegal Immigration in California: Impact and Possible Solutions

  1. The solution seems simple. Strictly enforce employment laws to encourage self deportation, and never legalize illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants know they are taking a chance being in this country, so any break up of families etc is their responsibility. Also, make necessary changes so that babies born to illegal immigrant mothers are not automatically US citizens.

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