Aug. 30, 2005 – Got a hacking cough, or a frog in your throat that just wonâ€™t go away? Has your asthma gotten worse? And have you avoided visiting the doctor to discuss these problems since the local clinics are so crowded or the local hospital has closed?
Well, blame immigrants.
That is essentially the message of a recent campaign by the group Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS). Press releases and radio and TV spots put out by the group point out that Kern County in central California has the countryâ€™s second worst ozone problem, according to the American Lung Association, and the local public Kern Medical Center is facing a serious budget crunch that makes it harder to provide care.
The radio spot features a man coughing uncontrollably, talking about the regionâ€™s air quality problems, and noting that 90 percent of Californiaâ€™s population growth is due to immigration and births to immigrants.
"In order to address the environmental effects of over-population," it says, "you have to address immigration."
A separate TV spot produced by the group shows a heart monitor while intoning, "More than 60 California hospitals have died and 24 more could die any day" because of budget problems, ostensibly caused by undocumented immigrants. It mentions Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, and ends with the heart monitor lines going flat and the words, "If our hospitals die, who will take care of us?"
Patty Henry, media relations director at Kern Medical Center, said that the hospital does not have a problem with unpaid bills from undocumented immigrants.
An August 24 press release from CAPS calls for California to declare a state of emergency as counties in Arizona and New Mexico recently did because of border violence and drug trafficking. The release quotes president Diana Hull, who hung up during a short phone conversation for this article, as saying, "Emergency rooms are closing and waits just get longer, much due to illegal aliensâ€™ unpaid medical bills."
The release blames the proposed McCain-Kennedy Guest Worker/Amnesty bill, a moderate measure supported by most immigrantsâ€™ rights advocates, for creating a "border rush" of new undocumented immigrants hoping to gain citizenship.
Like Arizona and New Mexico, California has long been on the frontlines of battles over immigrantsâ€™ rights and the national debate over reforming immigration policy. Anti-immigrant forces in California are pushing for something similar to Arizonaâ€™s Proposition 200, passed last year by referendum, which denies many public services to undocumented immigrants.
But immigrantsâ€™ rights groups as well as environmental, health and clean-air groups argue that while the country is clearly facing crises in health care and air pollution, immigrants are not the ones to blame.
Patty Henry, media relations director at Kern Medical Center, told The NewStandard that the hospital does not have a problem with unpaid bills from undocumented immigrants.
Garcia noted that poor immigrant families typically leave a much smaller â€œecological footprintâ€ than wealthier citizens.
"The cost of treating undocumented immigrants in fiscal year 2005 was $14.4 million," she said. "Kern Medical Center received $13.4 million in payment for these services." Henry said the majority of expenses incurred by undocumented immigrants came from the obstetrics program, where pregnant women are covered by Californiaâ€™s Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal, for their pre-natal care and delivery. She noted that infants born in this country, who are citizens, are also covered by Medi-Cal.
"The real issue weâ€™re facing is the significant under-funding for Medi-Cal and the lack of healthcare for the uninsured [citizens]," Henry added.
Arnaldo Garcia, director of a human rights project for the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, pointed out that far from overwhelming public health services, immigrants are usually reluctant to seek healthcare, except in emergency cases.
"Itâ€™s intimidating to go into an office, and humiliating to ask for help," he said. "The crisis in hospitals isnâ€™t because theyâ€™re being overwhelmed by immigrants, itâ€™s because theyâ€™re being overwhelmed by tax cuts and deregulation."
Meanwhile clean-air and environmental experts agree that it is not so much the number of people in the country but their consuming habits that dictate the impact on the environment.
"If Americans were to change their driving and purchasing habits and pollution standards for cars were bolstered, that would do much more for the environment than any kind of change to immigration law," said Fred Tsao, of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Garcia, who formerly worked as an environmental campaign organizer, noted that poor immigrant families typically leave a much smaller "ecological footprint" than wealthier citizens.
Anti-immigrant forces are increasingly putting forward long-standing arguments that immigrants use taxpayer-funded services without contributing their fair share in return.
"If you own a house and a summer cabin and a Hummer and eat at a restaurant every day, your ecological footprint is bigger than ten day laborers who wait for work on the corner in the morning," he said. "Someone who makes $100,000 a year will have a much greater effect [on the environment] than a working class immigrant family of four."
In 2004, zero-population-growth and anti-immigrant activists attempted to take over the board of directors at the environmental group Sierra Club. Some avowedly racist groups urged members to join the Sierra Club so they could vote in the board elections, leading the Southern Poverty Law Center to warn of a "greening of hate."
In a press statement about the radio spot, Hull accused environmental "organizations like the Sierra Club" of ignoring population growthâ€™s effect on US air quality.
Today the Sierra Club, which didnâ€™t return calls for this story, maintains its long-standing policy of taking no position on US immigration levels and policies.
Garcia pointed out that low-income immigrants and other people of color are much more likely to live in polluted areas, near coal-burning power plants, incinerators, steel mills and the like and also closest to freeways.
The CAPS web site contains information on problems created by water and air pollution, the loss of biodiversity, urban sprawl and other conservation topics that most environmentalists would agree are serious issues. An article by group secretary Ben Zuckerman answers the question "isnâ€™t over-consumption the real culprit?" He proposes that Americans need to reduce their resource consumption, but he writes that, "unfortunately, because high consumption is an integral part of our culture, diminishing it significantly will be a slow and difficult process."
Hence, he argues, stemming immigration is the necessary immediate solution.
"Illegal immigration is illegal," said Hull during a brief interview with TNS. "We should have a national conversation on how many people the US should take in each day... If youâ€™re talking about population growth you need to talk about immigration. You wouldnâ€™t just let someone walk into your house, so why do you just let someone walk into your country?"
As the debate over immigration reform heats up, anti-immigrant forces are increasingly putting forward long-standing arguments that immigrants use taxpayer-funded services without contributing their fair share in return.
For example, last year a study by the anti-immigration think tank Center for Immigration Studies reported that immigrants supposedly cost taxpayers $10 billion a year, a claim that was echoed in many media outlets. However the Center arrived at the conclusion through a flawed process of subtracting approximate public resources used by immigrants directly from income taxes paid; few citizens would be contributing their share using this formula. The study failed to account for sales taxes, property taxes and general stimulation of the economy from undocumented immigrants, whose low-paid labor allows businesses to maximize their profits significantly.
In fact, undocumented immigrants not only pay income, property and sales tax like any citizen, but they also forfeit millions of dollars a year in Social Security deductions under false Social Security numbers that will never be claimed and hence eventually revert to the government.
Nonetheless many citizens think immigrants are creating an unfair burden on social services and the job market, as Arizonaâ€™s passage of Prop 200 last year shows. "Minutemen" at the Arizona border interviewed by TNS blamed immigrants for lowering wages for construction and other American jobs; creating "slum" conditions in their neighborhoods and allegedly creating a job market where citizens face discrimination if they are not bilingual.
"There is a fiscal crisis in these states, cutbacks and privatization of services, and combined with a demographic change in our communities itâ€™s easy to say voila, all these immigrants have created this crisis," said Garcia. "For politicians and special interests itâ€™s very easy to scapegoat immigrants, as opposed to solving the problem."