It looks like the dispute over “The Wall” will not, after all, shut down the federal government. In the past few days, White House officials and President Trump have shifted from demanding budget funding for the wall to asking for money to increase “border security.” That request should not be controversial; the lights will stay on.
That doesn’t mean the immigration wars are over — far from it. As Trump ramps up border security, liberal Democrats vow ever-greater resistance. Blue states are increasingly adopting policies that bolster their pro-immigrant bona fides, but that may ultimately cause a backlash. Brooklyn, New York, recently announced it was manipulating criminal prosecutions to avoid deportations, an approach which could lead to undocumented people being treated more gently than those here legally.
At the same time, states like California continue to offer unauthorized residents budget-busting benefits that could cost citizens important perks – like scholarships to state schools. Such favors could increase hostility to people in the country illegally, and prevent real immigration reform.
The New York Times reported earlier this week that the Brooklyn district attorney has “created a policy that tailors prosecutions to avoid, when possible, the deportation or detention of immigrants charged with certain misdemeanors or nonviolent crimes.” In other words, prosecutors are being told to do legal handsprings to make sure that undocumented defendants do not plead guilty to the kinds of crimes that could get them tossed out of the country.
In deciding what kinds of charges to bring, the DA aspires to achieve “immigration-neutral disposition,” says The Times. Should that be the focus of our prosecutors? How long before that stated goal begins to discourage cops from rounding up criminals who might face deportation to avoid offending their political bosses? Might native-born Americans be treated more harshly under this new discipline than people in New York illegally?
“If someone confronts a guilty plea that would automatically subject them to a harsh immigration penalty,” says Eric Gonzalez, acting district attorney, “and there’s another possible plea that would hold them accountable and ensure public safety, justice demands they are given the one that doesn’t have immigration consequences.” Many people might not agree that adjusting the charges and pleas to circumvent the law constitutes justice.
In explanation, the DA’s office says, “Naturalized citizens, lawful residents and undocumented immigrants, they are all integral to our local economy and vibrant culture.”
What about the Brooklyn taxpayers who foot the bill for the undocumented population that they are supporting? What about citizens whose arrest and prosecution are not influenced by their immigration status?
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published a massive report last September that attempted to answer questions that have bedeviled the debate over immigration policy for years: Immigrants living and working in the U.S. both legally and illegally cost taxpayers $279 billion a year in social services. The average per capita government outlay was $15,908 compared with per capita tax receipts of only $10,887.
It is policies like this, that appear to favor those who have not played by the rules, which tend to harden attitudes about immigration. In California, state officials petitioned last year for a waiver which would have allowed them to offer Obamacare to undocumented people living in that state. Though President Obama vowed that persons in the country illegally would not have access to his signature healthcare program, State Sen. Ricardo Lara drafted legislation seeking a waiver from that federal rule for residents of California. After Trump had been elected, Lara withdrew his bill, claiming that he didn’t trust the new administration to protect the privacy of those who might apply for insurance.
California has offered people in that state illegally numerous benefits over the years, including in-state college tuition, driver’s licenses, and state-funded healthcare for children. Governor Jerry Brown struck the word “alien” from the state’s labor laws and has promised that he will not turn over data on state residents to federal authorities.
California is also the first in the nation seeking to become a “sanctuary state,” despite opposition from local law enforcement authorities. One sheriff from a conservative county disagrees with the effort arguing that politicians should not demand that local cops hide information about criminal activity from federal authorities. “I believe it’s not lawful,” he said.
Such policies could prove illegal; they are definitely expensive. California is home to roughly 3 million undocumented residents, who make up about 6 percent of the state’s population and 10 percent of its workforce. Some 25 percent of the nation’s total illegal population lives in the Golden State. One right-leaning group has estimated that California taxpayers are paying as much as $30 billion annually providing services to that group, which includes about $16 billion in school costs. That’s a significant hit to a projected $180 billion projected budget, which includes an estimated $1.6 deficit.
Governor Brown is expected to tackle the state’s red ink by slowing the growth of public school spending. He has also proposed phasing out scholarship money for middle-class families sending their kids to the University of California or CalState. Will hard-working parents who have gained citizenship the old-fashioned way and whose kids may not get a shot at college resent the billions directed to undocumented residents?
Americans have a sharp sense of fairness and respect for law and order. They also tend to vote with their pocketbook. They don’t like the idea of a wall, but they’re also not keen on sanctuary cities. They want people in the country illegally to be given a path to legal status. Nonetheless, they will not tolerate giving favored treatment and generous handouts to unauthorized people if they have to pay for it or end up feeling disadvantaged. These policies may appease liberal activists in a handful of states, but they will move us farther away from real immigration reform.
Published on TheFiscalTimes.com.