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Take away welcome mat for illegal immigrants

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Take away welcome mat for illegal immigrants

By Rep. Elton Gallegly

In the past few weeks, I've discussed in The Star Opinion pages two magnets that attract illegal immigrants to the United States. Employment, of course, is the big one. The second, the acceptance of easily forged, foreign-issued identification by banks to open accounts. That practice is also a boon to drug smugglers and terrorists.

But many other magnets, provided by states and local governments, provide incentives for illegal immigrants to migrate here. While it's true that the federal government provides some benefits for illegal immigrants, such as education and emergency healthcare, some states go far beyond that.

California offers some of the greatest benefits to illegal immigrants, which is why it is home to an estimated 40 percent of the U.S. illegal population. If California doesn't change its tactics toward illegal immigrants, it could see that percentage climb much higher with all the associated troubles it brings.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, state legislatures introduced more than 500 pieces of legislation targeting illegal immigration during the first six months of this year. At least 57 of those bills passed, the highest number ever recorded. The bills were spread out among 27 states. California was not among them.

Instead, California is one of only 10 states that provides in-state college and university tuition to illegal immigrants. 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 about $17,000 a year more than an illegal student, who shouldn't be entitled to attend anyway.

In addition, California spends nearly $1 billion a year in Medi-Cal services for an average of 780,000 illegal immigrants a month, over and above emergency health services.

Births to Medi-Cal-covered and illegal immigrant women jumped 25 percent from 1995 to 2004, from about 85,000 to 105,000 a year. Costs associated with those births skyrocketed 135 percent.

The federal government is trying to rein in those costs by requiring proof of citizenship or legal status to receive full benefits, which is slated to go into effect this summer. But, according to at least one published report, California officials are looking into ways to skirt those requirements.

Of course, not all illegal immigrants take advantage of Medi-Cal to pay their healthcare bills. Many just don't pay. Hospitals are forced to pick up the slack, amounting to an estimated $1.4 billion a year. Hospitals pass the costs on to paying patients or close their doors.

Local governments also provide magnets for illegal immigrants. Los Angeles and San Francisco, for instance, have declared themselves to be sanctuaries where cooperation with federal immigration authorities is disallowed. These sanctuary laws, such as Los Angeles' Special Order 40, are illegal under the 1996 federal immigration law and a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. But, as we've already seen, federal immigration laws are rarely enforced.

More than 375,000 known illegal immigrants have been ordered deported but have disappeared pending immigration hearings. It seems likely most are hiding in declared sanctuaries. In an attempt to force compliance with the law, the House passed provisions in two spending bills this year that would withhold Homeland Security and other federal funds from state and local governments with sanctuary policies.

Another magnet is the acceptance of the matricula consular cards as legitimate identification by police and local government agencies, including both Los Angeles and Ventura counties. With this easily forged, foreign-government-issued ID, illegal immigrants can use an array of county services and avoid arrest.

Only illegal immigrants, criminals and terrorists need consular cards for identification. Those legally in the country would have other identification. Anyone using a consular card should be assumed to be illegally in the country and arrested, not coddled.

The above are just some of the magnets that draw illegal immigrants to California. Fortunately, there's an easy fix. End sanctuaries. Assume that anyone who offers a consular card as identification is here illegally and arrest them. End subsidized higher education for illegal immigrants. Provide emergency care for anyone, but if they're illegally in the United States, send them home when they have recovered.

As I wrote in the first of this series of columns, the current debate about the House and Senate immigration bills is a debate about enforcing our laws. Until the United States returns to its foundation as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws, discussion about any other aspects of immigration reform is mute.

California and its cities and counties need to recognize they are part of the problem. Other states are stepping up to the plate, even as the House tries to force the federal government to do the same. Ventura County officials must take a lead in this endeavor, by reconsidering its policy of accepting consular cards as legitimate identification and turning a blind eye to the problems illegal immigration causes in our county.

— Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, represents parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in the 24th Congressional District.

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