Congressman Jack Kingston
Testimony before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, & Claims
"How Illegal Immigration Impacts Constituencies: Perspectives from Members of Congress"
November 17, 2005
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to speak before this committee. It is estimated that in the year 2000 there were 228,000 illegal aliens in the State of Georgia. That was a seven-fold increase from the INS estimate of 32,000 illegal aliens as of October 1996. The number of illegal aliens has increased 613 percent since 1996 and 777 percent since 1992, giving Georgia the seventh largest illegal alien population in the country.
Georgia has two distinct experiences with illegal immigration. In the south, illegal aliens tend to be seasonal, migrant workers. This is especially true in the agricultural sector. Northern Georgia, however, has more permanent illegal aliens, especially in the textile and poultry industries. It is believed many of the seasonal workers who start in the south migrate north where they become more permanently settled.
The nature of these two trends, obviously, has different impacts on society. The burden of a burgeoning illegal populace has been very significant to local and state governments. Everything from schools to hospitals are struggling to cope with the huge costs being placed on them.
Most farm workers in Georgia do not have health insurance, although U.S. born children of illegal immigrants are eligible for Medicaid. According the state Department of Community Health in 2004 alone Georgia taxpayers spent $58.4 million to provide emergency health care to undocumented immigrants. The farm workers seeking emergency care live in rural communities, communities whose health care systems are already under financial strain.
Georgia's education system is also experiencing problems related to mass immigration of illegal aliens. Classrooms are crowded with students who don't speak English being taught by teachers who don't speak Spanish. Everyone suffers in the classroom, the teacher, the students born to illegal aliens, and the children of local taxpayers who are held back. In 2002, it is estimated that Georgia spent $231 million educating illegal aliens. The Georgia Department of Education, relying on a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, is not allowed to ask a person's residency or visa status when a child is being enrolled. So calculating the exact cost of educating the children of illegal aliens is difficult.
The district I represent consist of 29 counties in Southeast Georgia. Most of these counties are in rural areas with local economies that are heavily dependent on agriculture production. Georgia sees more than 100,000 seasonal farm workers each year, most of these seasonal workers are in South Georgia picking produce. The first district also includes the entire Georgia coast where tourism and service industries are also critical to my constituents. Both of these industries are reliant on immigrant labor. Unfortunately, many of these immigrants whose labor is so important to my district are here illegally.
Each time I meet with farmers in my district agriculture labor reform is one of their top priorities. The obvious starting point in addressing ag labor issues is to modify the current H2A program so that farmers can afford to use it. Unfortunately, H2A requires that the arcane Adverse Effect Wage Rate be used. This rate, unlike the prevailing wage rate, is not based upon a market survey of the wages paid in a specific occupation in the area of intended employment. It is a regulatory wage rate required by the Department of Labor that relies on statewide averages of dissimilar agriculture jobs. Use of the AEWR has resulted in inflated wage rates that farmers cannot afford. It is a frequent complaint that many farmers in my district would like to follow the law and participate in H2A but they cannot stay competitive with the current regulations. So the choice they are left with is, participate in H2A and lose the farm or hire illegal labor and continue to operate and support their families. This is a difficult position to be in and unfortunately it is all too common. The wage rate and the bureaucratic red tape associated with our current H2A program encourage illegal immigration in my district.
As some of you may remember at the start of the $90 million Vidalia onion harvest in my district in 1998, the INS launched operation "Southern Denial" and arrested 27 illegal alien workers in Glennville, GA. The arrests led many of the 4,000-5,000 estimated migrant workers needed for the onion harvest to abandon the harvest out of fear of being deported. As a result onions were left rotting in the field and farmers in my district suffered greatly. A compromise was finally worked out and the farmers agreed to participate in the H2A program the next year. However, as I mentioned earlier this program is so outdated and burdensome that those who want to follow the law cannot afford to follow the law.
Although the numbers cannot be confirmed it is estimated that over 300,000 illegal alien women arrive pregnant each year and their children immediately qualify for citizenship. This means that American taxpayers are footing the bill for food, housing, medical expenses, and education for them up to age 18 in addition to paying for their mother, who is still considered an illegal alien. The average annual cost per child k-12 is $7,161.00 and exceeds $109 billion annually for anchor babies. Over 300,000 illegal alien mothers and their children are receiving hard earned taxpayer dollars each year simply for having a child across their border.
I strongly believe any immigration reform proposal to be considered this fall must contain language which addresses birthright citizenship, such as that proposed in H.R. 698, the "Citizenship Reform Act." The cost of caring for these children is extremely high. For labor and delivery alone, excluding c-section deliveries and any pre- or post-natal care, the cost is between $1,500 and $1,800 per child in my home state of Georgia. Under current law the government is often left no choice but to cover these costs. Despite the legal status of the baby's parents, the baby is entitled to all benefits that U.S. citizenship entails, including federal welfare benefits. One quickly comes to realize incredibly high costs this places on our social infrastructure. This is an issue which is quickly coming to affect most Congressional districts. A failure to address this issue in an immigration reform proposal would be a mistake.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to share the problems that Georgia is experiencing with illegal immigration with your committee. I look forward to working with you towards immigration reform in the coming months as this issue is definitely a priority for my constituents in the first district of Georgia.