February 1, 2008

California Official Reignites International Polemic

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich reignited debate this month about the costs and contributions of illegal immigration to the United States. The California politician recently contended that undocumented immigrants cost Los Angeles County tax-payers about one billion dollars every year, not including expenses for education. “This new information shows an alarming increase in the devastating impact that illegal immigration continues having on the tax-payers of Los Angeles County,” Antonovich said.

According to Antonovich, Los Angeles County annually spends on undocumented immigrants $220 million for law enforcement, $400 million for healthcare and $444 million for public assistance. Government spending on undocumented immigrants should be a major issue among the US presidential candidates, Antonovich added.

Immigrant rights activists challenged Antonovich’s numbers. “His statistics are bad. Undocumented immigrants don’t even have access to many services and every year California receives four billion dollars from immigrants, whether they are documented or not,” said Angelica Salas, director of the Los Angeles Coalition for Immigrant Human Rights. “(Antonovich) forgets the big detail that millions of undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes and in this way they contribute to the economy.”

A 2006 study by the California Immigrant Welfare Collaborative reported that immigrants pay $4.5 billion in state taxes each year. A separate, recent report from the Immigration Policy Center asserted that 50-75 percent of undocumented immigrants pay federal, state, social security and healthcare taxes; the US Internal Revenue Service has reported the existence of a $7 billion fund traced to invalid or questionable social security numbers. Contributions from undocumented workers are suspected to be the origin of a lot of the mysterious money. In another study, the Mexican Consulate in Arizona calculated that while an estimated 500,000 Mexican migrants in the state earn only 8 percent of the state’s payroll, they account for 13.4 percent of local purchasing power, or $27.6 billion.

Los Angeles’ Mexican Consulate quickly joined the verbal fray over Antonovich’s numbers. In a statement, the Con-sulate’s press office questioned the Los Angeles official’s statistics. “No fair and objective evaluation exists in the United States about the contribution Mexican immigrants make to the economy by means of consumption, tax payments and contributions to social security.” the Consulate said. “If it is estimated that 10 percent of the monthly salary is destined to remittances, then nine times this quantity stays here to pay for services and the consumption of goods.”

The Consulate’s involvement in the Antonovich controversy is one notable example of how Mexico’s diplomatic corps is becoming more vocal about issues that involve Mexican migrants. Last year, Mexican President Felipe Calderon instructed Mexican consulates and embassies in the US and Canada to speak out about the migrant issue.

Another flashpoint in the growing international war of words is in Arizona, where a new state law, the Fair and Legal and Employment Act, contains tough penalties for businesses employing undocumented workers. The Mexican government is increasingly concerned about the possible social and economic impacts of more than 200,000 jobless Mexicans who might be forced to suddenly return home from Arizona.

In a Mexico City meeting last week, officials from Mexico’s Foreign Relations Ministry and representatives of the country’s three largest political parties agreed to coordinate efforts on behalf of their country’s migrants. According to Senator Silvano Aureoles Conejo, Mexican senators agreed to send a letter to Arizona state legislators that expresses concerns over “xenophobic attitudes” against Mexican migrants in the Southwestern state.

Another senator who attended the Mexico City meeting, Ricardo Garcia Cervantes, president of the North American foreign relations commission, vowed that officials will take a more active role in the defense of migrants. “We are going to begin working on new ways of promoting consular action, documenting violations and informing and assisting Mexicans that live in the United States,” he said. “This is a priority function and we all assume it.”

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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