County to Dun U.S. for Illegal-Alien Expenses

Times Staff Writer

San Diego County supervisors on Tuesday took the first step toward seeking reimbursement from the federal government for services the county provides to illegal immigrants.

In a series of votes, the board endorsed a broad-based plan by Supervisor Susan Golding to recover what she says are millions of dollars in costs for health, social and criminal justice services the county provides to illegal immigrants.

But the board stopped short of agreeing to sue the federal government to recover the funds, as Golding had suggested a month ago in a press conference that prompted widespread criticism of her in the Latino community.

Instead, the board told county Chief Administrative Officer Norman Hickey to begin preparations for such a suit should all other efforts prove fruitless.


First, however, Hickey will seek from the federal government $16 million that the county estimates it has paid in the last five years to give health care to illegal immigrants at UC San Diego Medical Center.

Hickey also was instructed Tuesday to develop a method of determining the full cost of all other county services provided to undocumented immigrants so that those costs, too, can be recovered.

Another Golding proposal--the creation of a Commission on U.S.-Mexican Affairs--was put off for a month to give Supervisor Brian Bilbray time to talk with San Diego Mayor-elect Maureen O’Connor about establishing a joint city-county border commission.

In her presentation to the board, Golding took pains to avoid the kind of language that prompted some local Latino leaders to brand her approach to the problem a month ago as “hysterical.”


Golding pointed out that she believes Immigration and Naturalization Service arrest statistics are not an accurate measure of the number of people crossing the border, and she conceded that arrest reports from local police departments are often subjective because officers frequently guess whether a person is in the United States legally.

She said the federal government has an obligation to reimburse local government for services to illegal immigrants, just as it did for Vietnamese refugees after the fall of the U.S.-backed government there.

“I believe the principle is the same, and similar aid is needed today to offset the cost we are bearing for this illegal immigration into this country,” Golding said.

Her proposal won the backing of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego County Medical Society and the Mexican-American Business and Professional Assn. But the Chicano Federation remains opposed, said Jess Haro, chairman of the federation’s board.


“What you are doing here is raising false hopes and inflaming passions,” Haro told the supervisors. “What you’ve done is point your finger at one group, singled out that group and blamed them for the problem of the loss of revenues.”