Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) has proposed a constitutional amendment that would deny U. S. citizenship to children born in this country to illegal immigrants.
Gallegly, in legislation introduced Tuesday, proposes that only children born to mothers who are citizens or legal residents be granted citizenship--a move that he said would save taxpayers billions of dollars a year in welfare payments.
“The bottom line, when you look at the costs for childbirth (for babies of illegal immigrants) and for payments to them afterward, is that all the other needy children . . . are being deprived,” said Gallegly, who represents portions of Ventura County and the San Fernando Valley.
The new bill prompted harsh criticism from Latino rights activists, who said Gallegly is pandering to voters in his largely white, middle-class district by proposing a constitutional amendment that has no chance of passing.
“It’s the type of politics of race that has been practiced by . . . Jesse Helms and George Bush,” said Marco Antonio Abarca, a California Rural Legal Assistance lawyer in Oxnard. “But racial polarization is good politics. It wins.”
Abarca noted that Gallegly, a three-term congressman, does not sit on the House Judiciary Committee, which considers immigration bills.
“In the world of immigration, he is a nobody,” Abarca said, “but he does this to preach to the converted.”
Gallegly said that his is generally considered a safe Republican seat and that his bill could be a liability because of the way others can misrepresent it.
He said he proposed the bill because the nation desperately needs to cut its budget and billions of dollars can be saved by eliminating social services for children of illegal immigrants.
Those children, he said, would be treated as other illegal residents--given due process in court and deported with their families.
But the congressman acknowledged that his bill has little chance of receiving the required two-thirds vote in Congress and being ratified by three-fourths of the states.
“Two-thirds of the House are Democrats, so it’s very difficult for conservatives, for Republicans to get almost anything through,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to stand up and be counted.”
The proposed amendment is Gallegly’s latest initiative aimed at illegal immigrants. Earlier this month, he announced a package of five bills that he said were designed to help the United States gain control of its borders.
The bills called for nearly doubling the size of the Border Patrol, issuing new tamper-proof identification cards and prohibiting unemployment and welfare payments to illegal residents.
Critics noted that the law already prohibits such payments to illegal residents, except for emergency medical care including childbirth. But Gallegly said payments still go to illegal residents because their U.S.-born children are eligible for government aid.
Gallegly, who has estimated that indigent illegal immigrants receive $5.4 billion a year in social services nationwide, said his constitutional amendment would benefit Los Angeles County enormously.
He said two-thirds of all babies born at county-operated hospitals--or about 36,000 a year--are children of illegal immigrants. And, using figures that he said were provided by Los Angeles County, he said $277 million a year is paid to children of illegal immigrants or those who are legal residents under the 1986 federal amnesty program.
County officials said Gallegly’s figures were accurate for 1990.
For August, 1991, 23% of the 501,000 children receiving welfare payments in Los Angeles County were children of illegal immigrants or those who are legal residents under the amnesty program, officials said. Those children will receive about $300 million of the $1.9 billion that the county expects to pay in Aid to Families With Dependent Children funds over the next year.
The payments to children of illegal immigrants should be stopped, Gallegly said. His proposed amendment would “stop rewarding people who are breaking the law (and) bring our citizenship policy back into line with the vast majority of nations . . .” he said.
The congressman said that no studies exist showing that illegal immigrants pay their own way in this country. There are no figures showing how much they pay to the government through a variety of taxes, he said.
But Kevin McCarthy, an administrator at the Rand Corp. think tank, said a study he conducted several years ago showed that of the three types of Mexican immigrants, two paid far more taxes than the cost of the government services they received. The two groups are workers who come to this country to test the job market and who then return home and those who work here only seasonally.
A third group, workers who move here permanently and bring their families, did not pay enough taxes for the social services they received, he said.
“There is little question that this group, mostly families, uses more social services than they provide in taxes,” McCarthy said. That is because of the cost of education, he said.
In Ventura County, which grew by about 64,000 Latino residents during the 1980s, a number of school districts are crowded with Latino students who speak only limited English.
Health and welfare services also are increasingly taxed: In January, 33% of public assistance cases involved people who spoke only Spanish, compared with 21.7% in 1988, the county reported. And about half of all babies born at the county’s hospital, which provides subsidized care for poor people, were Latino.