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Don’t Leave Out a Soul

In amending the Immigration Reform and Control Act last week, the Senate voted to exclude illegal aliens from the 1990 count of residents by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. If the amendment became law, it would create a wide gap between the real and the official numbers of people living in the United States and lead to hardship for millions of residents who depend on government services. Monday’s settlement of a lawsuit against the bureau might help make counts more accurate, but the surest way to avoid trouble is to overturn the Senate vote.

Medical services for the poor, paid for in large part by federal money that is calculated on the basis of population, would be among the hardest hit. The state Medi-Cal program reimburses hospitals for the care they provide to illegal immigrants. Some of that money comes from federal funds distributed on the basis of population. California’s director of finance has estimated the state’s potential loss at $300 million annually.

Nobody knows for certain how many illegal immigrants live in the United States, but the estimates range from 3 million to 8 million. California probably accounts for half of that total, although estimates for the state vary almost as wildly as the national estimates do. For example, based on applications for amnesty under 1986 immigration reforms, the estimate for Los Angeles County is between 500,000 and 1 million. Orange County’s alien population was estimated at 230,000 four years ago, which made it second largest in the state at that time. As an example of the potential for financial damage, Santa Ana, a city that houses nearly 45% of Orange County’s Latino population, believes it was under-counted in the last census by about 50,000 residents. That translates into a loss of more than $2 million a year in money allocated on the basis of population.

Without an accurate count of both legal and illegal residents, California could lose not only federal money but also at least one of the five to seven new congressional seats it should gain under the population figures of the 1990 census.

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Los Angeles City Council members Gloria Molina and Richard Alatorre called on the House of Representatives Tuesday to reverse the Senate vote when it takes up reforms of the immigration act. And Santa Ana Councilman Miguel Pulido provides one very strong argument for change. Without meaning to, census takers could intimidate both legal and illegal residents just by bringing up the question of status. Some legal residents might worry about bringing to the attention of immigration officials some relative who was here illegally. In any event, having to determine status instead of just counting heads could complicate the census and lead to mistakes.

The settlement Monday of a lawsuit against the U.S. Census Bureau brought by several urban areas, including Los Angeles, could lead to less under-counting in heavily populated communities. Under the agreement, the census bureau would survey a statistical sample of the population after the traditional head count each year. The bureau could then adjust the count if the two methods produced a significant difference, but critics question whether the census bureau’s heart would be in it, and there appears to be nothing in the settlement to require the bureau to adjust its head count to match its survey result.

The object of a census is to determine the nation’s population. To do that accurately, everyone must be counted. To accomplish that, the House should reject the Senate’s attempt to exclude illegal immigrants. Ignoring their presence can only create inaccuracy in the count, inequity in the distribution of federal aid money and needless hardships for hospitals, social programs and the people they help.

An Accountable KGB?

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Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and scores of other Russian revolutionaries all spent years in Siberian confinement for their anti-state activities, identified and convicted thanks to the diligence of the czar’s political police. When the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, they already knew that a large and effective secret police organization is a vital agency of autocratic power. Foremost among the instruments of repression they established was the Cheka, or Extraordinary Commission for Struggle with Counterrevolution and Sabotage. Ever since, under different names--currently, the KGB--the secret police have served as the most ruthlessand feared tool of Communist Party control. Now the first effort is under way to hold the secret police broadly accountable for their domestic behavior.

In yet another of those extraordinary breaks with the past that is becoming almost commonplace as the Soviet Union struggles with political and economic reforms, the new Parliament, the Supreme Soviet, has extracted a pledge from the KGB’s chairman that his organization will become more open and more respectful of the nation’s laws. Vladimir A. Kryuchkov, who was questioned by the parliamentarians for hours before winning confirmation in his job, did not satisfy his toughest critics, like the maverick populist Boris N. Yeltsin,that he was entirely truthful and sincere. But he did appear to accept the principle of full legislative oversight of the KGB’s activities, and he did promise that the KGB would respect the legal rights of Soviet citizens.

Assurances are, of course, easy to give; the test will come with performance. Kryuchkov drew derisive laughter when he denied that the KGB taps telephones or employs more than a few “helpers,” i.e. paid informers. As virtually all Soviet citizens know, the KGB is a huge and pervasive enterprise, one with few scruples about respecting individual rights. If the secret police is no longer the virtual state-within-a-state that it grew into under Stalin, it remains a very well financed and nearly ubiquitous organization with few formal limits on its great inherent powers.

Kryuchkov promises a more law-abiding and responsible agency. In speaking about the “bitter past,” he condemned as a “crime against humanity” the great Stalinist purges of the 1930s, when the secret police tortured and murdered on a vast scale. He even seemed to hint that the KGB’s vast archives might at some point be selectively opened so that historical truth could better be served. These are important reforms. What is more important now is that the Supreme Soviet act to make sure that they are carried out.

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Motorcycle Helmets a Must

Among trauma center doctors and nurses, motorcycles are known as “donor cycles.” The grim nickname recognizes a grim reality: The lives of motorcyclists injured in accidents often cannot be saved, but their organs can be harvested for transplantation to others. The problem in this state is made all the worse by the fact that California is one of five without a helmet law.

The Legislature now has approved a law that require all motorcyclists and their passengers to wear safety crash helmets. Gov. George Deukmejian’s staff has said the governor will veto the bill, as he has in the past. That would be a grave mistake, the more so this year following the governor’s actions cutting out state funds for trauma centers and emergency rooms.

Under the legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Carson), the law would take effect Jan. 1 and remain in force for four years. The California Highway Patrol would be instructed to do a careful analysis of the impact of the law. That research would then be the basis for a decision on whether to extend it beyond the end of 1993.

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There seems no doubt that the helmet law would have an immediate safety effect. An Assembly staff consultant estimates an annual saving of $65 million in California, where last year there were 21,556 motocycle injuries and 603 deaths. A single accident involving head injuries to a cyclist without a helmet can cost upwards of $1 million in medical care. Federal studies show a death rate reduction of 25% in states that mandate helmets.

No law can eliminate all the risks. That may be a factor in the marked decline in motorcycle sales over the last three years. Nevertheless, more than 800,000 Californians hold motorcycle licenses. The governor has suggested a compromise, requiring helmets only for those under 21, which is the law in 23 states. That ignores the fact that 69% of the injuries and 73% of the deaths in California last year involved cyclists 21 and older. The governor also favors mandated training for those under 21, expanding the present requirement for those under 18. That would be useful, no doubt about it, but the governor should know that 34,000 people in that age category applied last year alone for licenses, whereas the Department of Motor of Vehicles’ teaching capacity is 7,000 a year.

The Floyd bill provides California with an opportunity to enhance motor-vehicle safety, following the good example of 22 other states, including Texas, the latest to mandate helmets for all motorcyclists. This is not a matter to be left to personal decision by the cyclists, because it is the public that pays most of the costs for the carnage made worse by injuries to motorcyclists unprotected by helmets.


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