Sixty percent of people living in Miami are foreign-born. Two-thirds of all babies born in Los Angeles County public hospitals have mothers who are illegal immigrants. A family of four in California must pay $400 a year to support undocumented immigrants.
Such were the statistics offered by three border-state governors in pleading with Congress Wednesday to get tough on illegal aliens and pay states for the huge cost of taking care of those who get through."Illegal immigration has created a living nightmare for Floridians forced to shoulder the burden of this crisis," said Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, comparing the impact with that of Hurricane Andrew two years ago.
"It is terribly, intolerably unfair" that Washington forces states to pay for services to illegal immigrants "that we can't afford to provide to our own legal residents," California Gov. Pete Wilson told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Wilson offered the scenario of two pregnant women, one an illegal immigrant and the other a legal resident with a low-wage job who is too poor to buy her own health insurance. Under federal law, the state would provide maternity care for the former but not the latter.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimates that there are nearly 4 million undocumented immigrants in the country and that the number is growing by about 300,000 a year.
Florida, California, Arizona, New York, Texas, Illinois and New Mexico are suing the federal government over what they spend on illegal immigration to meet federal mandates on social services such as education and health care.
Several lawmakers have proposed bills to shift financial responsibilities to Washington, increase INS border patrols and speed up the deportation process for aliens imprisoned for crimes in this country.
But Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the Appropriations Committee chairman, said the states shouldn't put all the blame on the federal government. "I wonder if the rhetoric isn't a little overblown," he said.
Byrd showed a 1993 pamphlet from the California Department of Health Services that tells pregnant women they are eligible for the state Medicaid program even if they are in the country illegally.
"Don't think you can hold the federal government responsible for its mandates," Byrd said, when the state health department "puts out publications inviting aliens to come to California."
Wilson said that information in the pamphlet was not accurate and that the real problem was that California must pay more than $3 billion a year, nearly 10 percent of the state's general fund budget, to support illegal aliens.
Arizona Gov. Fife Symington said 5 percent of his state budget goes to aid undocumented immigrants. "This issue is a matter between the states and the federal government," he said. "It is not about Mexico-bashing or racial arrogance."