State's biggest threat is illegal immigration
By Elton Gallegly
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has made progress on several fronts in an effort to put California on the road to recovery. But there's a roadblock at the very beginning, and until it's removed, California's recovery cannot move forward.
Illegal immigration, more than any other single factor, is crippling major segments of California's economy, from health care to higher education to jobs. That's why, regardless of the security concerns-and there are many-Schwarzenegger should not sign any bill granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
This is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. Exit polls conducted during last year's recall showed that 39 percent of the recall voters identified themselves as Republican. Yet 70 percent told pollsters the license law that was then in effect should be repealed.
Schwarzenegger did the right thing and forced its repeal. Now he should do the right thing and refuse to resurrect it.
There are approximately 6 million illegal immigrants living in California today, a figure that has more than tripled over the past decade despite supposed increases in enforcement.
Why? Because we have made the allure of the Golden State irresistible. Even in the face of legal ramifications and the very real possibility of death or serious injury en route, illegal immigrants continue to come.
A driver's license would be one more enticement. Instead of offering driver's licenses, we must remove the enticements we now offer.
Anyone, whether here legally or not, should not be denied emergency care. But illegal immigrants use hospital emergency rooms for general care. As a result, 82 percent of the state's emergency rooms lost money in 2002, according to the California Medical Association.
The burden from illegal immigrants who use emergency rooms for primary care is so great that hospitals across the state are closing at alarming rates. Such burdens hurt those who can least afford it-our native working poor who lose access to the only health care available to them.
Illegal immigration also hurts our native working poor's ability to attain Section 8 housing. By state law, illegal immigrants are barred from Section 8 housing. But the law is not enforced. So illegal immigrants fill public housing while a several-generation U.S. mother lives in her car with three children because she's on a six-year waiting list.
In California, illegal immigrants attend state universities at in-state tuition rates. That's grossly unfair to a legal high school student who moves out of California for a year, then returns to attend college. That student will pay $16,956 a year more than an illegal student-who shouldn't be entitled to attend anyway.
Proponents of giving illegal immigrants driver's licenses say they need them to work. These are the same people who repeat the fallacy that illegal immigrants take jobs U.S. citizens don't want.
More than 8 million Americans are unemployed. Hotel and restaurant jobs-which used to be filled quite happily by legal U.S. residents and citizens-are now filled by illegal immigrants who are paid a pittance of what U.S. workers were paid. Construction used to be a time-honored profession passed from father to son in the United States, but U.S. citizens have been forced out by illegal immigrants willing to do the work for minimum wage and no benefits.
With a wink and a nod by employers, illegal immigrants supply forged documents to get a job. Easily forged and fraudulently obtained matricula consular cards are accepted as a free pass on our streets. Illegal immigrants obtain free medical care and heavily subsidized higher education without penalties.
It's impossible to return California's economy to a solid footing without addressing illegal immigration. It's true that the federal government needs to step up enforcement, and I am working with my congressional colleagues to do so. But as long as we offer free health care, jobs, heavily subsidized higher education, subsidized housing and other enticements, illegal immigrants will risk life and limb to come here.
For the health of our state's economy, Schwarzenegger should declare any future driver's license bill dead on arrival and begin reversing state laws and policies that serve as a lure to illegal immigrants.
Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Thousand Oaks, is former chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Immigration Reform and a senior member of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.