Craven Alien-Count Request Raises Fuss : Immigration: State senator wants to know financial impact undocumented aliens have on public agencies. Rights groups call survey flawed and racist.


An attempt by a state legislative committee to learn the financial impact that undocumented aliens have on schools and public agencies in San Diego County was challenged Monday by immigrant rights groups throughout the state, which charged that the survey is flawed and racist.

The controversy erupted last month when Sen. William Craven (R-Carlsbad) wrote to every school district and city in the county and to San Diego County officials, asking them to do a head count of suspected undocumented aliens who use public services. Craven is chairman of the Legislature’s Special Committee on Border Issues.

Craven also asked local hospitals and trauma centers to count the number of undocumented immigrants given medical care.


A major problem, as seen by critics of the survey, is how a teacher, hospital official and others, who do not know the immigration laws, can determine who is not a legal resident of the United States.

Scott Johnson, Craven’s administrative assistant, said the survey was initiated “to document the need for federal funds (and) to take into account the tremendous burden that illegal immigration has placed on San Diego.”

However, critics charged that the survey is nothing more than a “Mexican Control Act,” to target Latino immigrants. Community activist Roberto Martinez, a member of the Latino Advisory Committee for the County Board of Education, called the survey “biased and incredibly flawed.”

“This is going to have a chilling effect among Hispanic immigrants. The information obtained from this survey will be inaccurate and misleading. It’s designed in such a way that they will not be able to distinguish between legal and undocumented residents, but apparently they don’t care,” said Martinez.

Claudia Smith, regional counsel for the California Rural Legal Assistance office in Oceanside, asked County Chief Administrative Officer Norman Hickey not to participate in the survey.

“This survey cannot help but yield terribly distorted numbers,” said Smith in a letter to Hickey.

According to Craven’s letter, he hopes to use data gathered from the survey to lobby Washington officials in September for more federal funds to pay for the cost of providing services to undocumented immigrants.

The survey has engendered considerable opposition from immigrant rights groups and educators. Several critics said they objected to the criteria proposed by Craven to help officials and teachers determine who may be an undocumented alien. One educator said that Craven is asking superintendents and teachers to interpret immigration laws, which they are not qualified to do.

“They’re asking us to become immigration agents and interpret immigration laws,” said an official from an East County school district who requested anonymity. “Our job is to educate kids who live in the district. How they got to the district is someone else’s consideration and not ours.”

In the case of school districts, Craven asked teachers and principals to “find a creative means” to approximate the number of undocumented aliens in their schools. He suggested that schoolchildren who lack Social Security cards or immunization records could be categorized as illegal aliens.

Other criteria suggested by Craven to determine the legal status of a school child included:

* If a child has no previous school records, he may be considered to be an illegal resident of this country.

* If an incorrect or non-existent address is given by the child’s parents, or if he does not have a U.S. birth certificate, he may be an illegal alien.

* Teachers should also be on the lookout for children with limited or no English skills.

The last recommendation in particular infuriated many critics of the survey.

“They’re assuming that anybody who doesn’t speak English fluently is undocumented,” said Deborah Escobedo, staff attorney with the San Francisco-based Multi-Cultural Education, Training and Advocacy. The agency specializes in educational rights of immigrant and minority children.

Using the committee’s criteria, Indochinese children who do not speak English fluently could also be considered undocumented aliens, Escobedo said.

Vibiana Andrade, Los Angeles regional counsel for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund office, called the survey outrageous, an invasion of privacy and in possible violation of civil rights laws.

“I dare say this is a thinly veiled attempt to dissuade people from using county and public services,” said Andrade.

Three years ago, the county counsel warned of possible legal pitfalls in another immigration survey designed for law enforcement agencies to determine the financial impact of undocumented aliens on public services in North County.

“Attempts by law enforcement agencies, other than immigration authorities, to question or survey individuals in the course of law enforcement contacts concerning their immigration status may raise significant discrimination and civil rights issues,” said a June 6, 1988, opinion by Arne Hansen, deputy county counsel.

However, Hansen also wrote that officials could collect this data if they did it in a way that did not “impact on individual or minority group rights.”

Johnson said the survey will be unobtrusive, and, therefore, legal, because it will “not seek to identify undocumented aliens.”

“There are no requests for identity, nor is there any attempt to say that services would be provided or withheld by participating in the survey,” said Johnson.

Charley Nares, a staff officer for Hickey, said the county’s chief administrative officer has decided that the county will participate in the survey.

“We said we would participate and are still trying to decide how to go about collecting this data,” said Nares. “ . . . How to go about collecting this information has not yet been ironed out. No decisions have been made on how we’re going to go about it. These things are still being worked out.”