Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 21, 2005


Host: Michael Grant

Arizona's Border Crisis: A HORIZON Specia


  • How much does illegal immigration cost Arizonans? Costs associated with illegal immigration include health care, criminal justice and education. Horizon examines the various ways illegal immigrants benefit consumers, but cost taxpayers.
Guests:
  • Julie Pace - employment law attorney who served as vice chair of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce Immigration Task Force


View Transcript
>> Michael Grant:
Tonight on "Horizon", a new study estimates more than a half million illegal immigrants live in Arizona. Their labor might benefit consumers, but at what cost to taxpayers?

>> Randy Pullen:
It's such a pervasive thing in our society because we don't keep track of those expenses that it's hard to say what the real cost is, but I think it's fair to say that the cost exceeds whatever economic value we get back from that.

>> Michael Grant:
Tonight a look at the economic impact of illegal immigrants. Plus, Scott Bales will go from appearing before the state Supreme Court to sitting on its bench. An interview with the newest Supreme Court justice. Next on "Horizon."

>> Announcer:
"Horizon" is made possible by the friends of Channel 8, members who provide financial support to this Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

>> Michael Grant:
Good evening, I'm Michael Grant. Welcome to "Horizon". Governor Napolitano and Sonoran Governor Eduardo Bours propose a joint effort to crack down on drug and immigrant smugglers. The two discussed the idea last week at an Arizona-Mexico commission meeting. The goal is to develop a strategy that will improve communication and cooperation between Sonora and Arizona law enforcement agencies. They can be found in virtually every labor-intensive, low-wage earning industry in the state. From picking our food in the fields to preparing it in restaurants, even building our homes, illegal immigrants are a vital part of our economy. But at what cost? Tonight we continue our special series, "Arizona's Border Crisis" by looking at the economic impact of illegal immigration. In a moment, I'll talk to a couple of guests who have examined the issue. But first, Paul Atkinson looks at how undocumented immigrants benefit consumers but cost taxpayers.

>> Paul Atkinson:
Illegal immigrants have become a part of our lives. Landscapers, construction workers and janitors, restaurant cooks and mechanics, even students. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates are there are more than half a million illegal immigrants living in Arizona.

>> Dawn McLauren:
Willing to work for really cheap. They're an easy population to hire and fire, they're not going to collect unemployment insurance, not to complain to the labor board, not going to have to pay them health benefits.

>> Paul Atkinson:
ASU economist Dawn McLauren says our desire for cheap labor is not unlike the attraction to low-cost products.

>> Dawn McLauren:
It's a bit of a WalMart thing. We like the cheaper goods. If we want to afford housing, want cheaper food, all of these things illegal immigrants contribute to. They will build our houses, just as the employer doesn't have to pay the costly health benefits, they pass that down to the consumer.

>> Paul Atkinson:
Quantifying the impact of such cheap labor is difficult. How much more would food, homes, services cost without them.

>> Randy Pullen:
I hear this all the time, I won't take a job for $7 an hour as a maid but if they pay me $10 an hour, I would be happy to be a maid at that hotel. They undercut the cost of labor to employers, they are willing to take the cheapest job available.

>> Paul Atkinson:
Randy Pullen advocates a tougher approach to illegal immigration, fights the consequence illegal laborers have on native born workers.

>> Randy Pullen:
It creates more unemployed Americans who won't work for that wage. Who therefore take government services in exchange instead of working.

>> Paul Atkinson:
Another consequence is the loss of money to the local economy. A study by the Thunderbird School of International Management found 370,000 immigrants in Arizona, mostly undocumented, sent $486 million to family members in Mexico in 2002. The total amounts make labor one of Mexico's top exports.

>> Dawn McLauren:
They are exporting their labor and getting a return for it because that money does end up going to Mexico's Mexican families.

>> Paul Atkinson:
It's almost impossible to determine the exact cost. There are numerous studies on the economic impact to health care, education and welfare; few contain any hard numbers, often skewed.

>> Dawn McLauren:
You've got ideologies on both sides, coming out with figures that basically are based on assumptions that maybe are not valid. They are making a lot of assumptions, jumping to conclusions about various figures, applying methodology that is probably not appropriate, especially for this particular population, and there's a lack of study of the population.

>> Paul Atkinson:
One cost that has a price tag is incarceration of legal and illegal immigrants in state prisons. Earlier this year, Governor Napolitano sent the U.S. Justice Department a bill for $71 million. That figure is one of the few that can be quantified. Other costs associated with illegal immigrants committing crimes aren't so easy to measure. 2003, a third of Phoenix homicide reports, some 85 murders, mentioned illegal immigrants as suspects, victims or family members.

>> Randy Pullen:
How many house break-ins, this is the robbery capital of the United States, how many can be attributed to illegal aliens? The impact is so pervasive, overwhelming that we don't have a way of accounting for any of the real costs that are going on.

>> Paul Atkinson:
Most illegal immigrants lack medical insurance and rely on hospital emergency rooms for medical care. While there is no way to track the exact cost of health care, the federal government will reimburse Arizona hospitals some $45 million this fiscal year, based on two factors: The percentage of undocumented living here and the apprehension rate of illegal immigrants, of which Arizona ranks first.

>> Randy Pullen:
It's a portion of the costs of providing those services that they are getting reimbursed for. It's a horrendous problem. You don't have to look any further than the closing of hospital emergency rooms to understand the impact.

>> Paul Atkinson:
One impact difficult to assess is that of public education. Based on 2003-2004 school year figures, 15\% of Arizona students, some 147,000 were labeled as English language learners. In 2004, an average of $7100 was spent on all Arizona K-12 students which would put the cost of English language learners at more than $1 billion. That figure does not include the extra cost of educating non-English speaking students. While many of the English language learners are the children of illegal immigrants, there is no way to determine the exact number of children because immigration status cannot be asked of students or their parents. The concern by many is that the cost of educating the children of undocumented immigrants is far greater than the amount of taxes they pay. Many may not own property and pay taxes that way, but they do contribute taxes to local school districts.

>> Dawn McLauren:
These illegal immigrants are living somewhere. They can't buy a home, they don't pay property taxes directly, but they do rent a place. And when they are renting, the landlord is including the cost of the property insurance. And that property -- sorry, the property taxes. If that property tax is being paid by the landlord, it is paying for the schools.

>> Paul Atkinson:
These are fake IDs confiscated by immigration agents. They were used to obtain jobs, jobs in which income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes were taken out. Because the Social Security numbers are fake, it's money that illegal immigrants will never see. The Social Security administration estimates three-quarters of all false identification numbers belong to illegal immigrants and the payments to Social Security amount to about $7 billion a year and growing.

>> Dawn McLauren:
Social Security has billions of dollars because of the unmatched funds, and they have admitted most of the unmatched funds are coming in from illegal aliens. You can see that number over the last number of years has been exploding.

>> Paul Atkinson:
ASU economist Dawn McLauren says based on the figures she's seen the overall economic impact of undocumented immigrants is a wash or it's slightly positive. Randy Pullen thinks illegal immigration has a negative impact.

>> Randy Pullen:
It's so pervasive in our society, we don't keep track of the expenses, it's hard to say what the real cost is. I think it's fair to say that the cost exceeds whatever economic value we get back from that.

>>Michael Grant:
Illegal immigrants don't qualify for welfare, but can get assistance from the women, infants and children's program. Their children are eligible for food stamps and federal free lunches. While an exact figure isn't available, several studies put the cost at a couple billion dollars a year. Joining me now is Julie Pace, an employment law attorney who served as vice chair of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce Immigration Task Force. Also here is Luis Ramirez, a member of the Arizona-Mexico Commission and chairman of the immigration committee for the Border Trade Alliance. Thanks to both of you for joining us. This is a very difficult subject to organize and get a handle on, Julie, I think part of it because there are so many unknowns on both the cost and benefit side of the equation. You have looked at it. Do you feel that it's a net plus or a net minus, taking all things into account?

>> Julie Pace:
Taking all things into account is hard. That's where you get to how many numbers do you look at, every group has a different number and you start looking at the statistics and it alters what's out there. I think we're dealing with a hidden population, which makes it more difficult. Initially we had a lot of people coming to work, there's a problem getting across the border, bringing more families, which is expanding the costs. I think it's a net plus but I think we need to hold people accountable, we need to do something in the federal government to allow people to pay their taxes, to pay their share and I think some of that is happening now but we need to go much further and eliminate the smugglers and counterfeit rings.

>> Michael Grant:
All the costs are difficult to quantify. For example, when you get to things like the homicide rate in the city of Phoenix and associated crime rates, criminal justice system numbers that may be difficult to track. There are a lot of people who can make a very strong argument that this is not a net benefit, it is a net loss. What do you say?

>> Luis Ramirez:
Well, I don't want to confuse the issues. Crime, nobody wants crime in our community, nobody wants crime in our neighborhoods. And some of those issues I'm not sure how many account to the facts in the piece just before we started, but it mentions that 87 homicides were due to people who were -- because they committed a crime or the crime was being inflicted on them.

>> Michael Grant:
Sure.

>> Luis Ramirez:
One of the ways I think to address the issue of crime on undocumented individuals, how do you allow them to feel empowered? How do you allow them to avoid having to cross the desert and be subject to the coyotes who are going to charge them a lot of money, at times abandon them in the desert. I think some of the crimes are related to the process people have to go through to get into the country, some of the challenges. These are people who are willing to put their lives at risk in order to look for a better opportunity in life.

>> Michael Grant:
Understood, Luis. I think a lot of people have some sympathy for that. But when we have gun battles on Interstate 10, I'm not sure how we quantify the cost of that.

>> Luis Ramirez:
It's a cost for everyone in society. Any time there's an additional crime, we all lose something. Some of these people are being put in situations making them more susceptible to those crimes, because the only way they can get into this country is walking through the desert. How do we put them in a situation where they are protected? I travel with my passport, I have visas. I have the ability to go through a port of entry where a border patrol agent is going to be protecting me.

>> Michael Grant:
Julie, a lot of people say in great frustration but in all sincerity, it is them by violating laws of the United States.

>> Julie Pace:
I've heard that a lot. And part of it shows the complexity of looking at the whole big picture. We talk about the crimes, I think we did cause some of that by increasing restrictions at the border and creating a trade in human smuggling. That wasn't there a few years ago. We have caused more crime and increased the cost on all of us. You say what is the solution, we need to come up with a process where people can work, go back home and pay their taxes. And look at the demographics. When people say that, we do not have the workers, we have a graying America. All the statistics show we don't have the birth rate high enough for replacement workers. We are a service industry and we are going to have to staff that with other people outside this country.

>> Michael Grant:
You're an employment law attorney. We wink at business all the time. They have to take the IDs and can't figure out whom these people are. Why not get serious and say to business, we have a national policy being violated by other people, but also violated by you?

>> Julie Pace:
I think that's a fair statement. First of all, employers, they do audits every week, when they hire people in the door and the proper forms. We have all of the laws on the books to enforce these issues about whether someone is undocumented or not and how to check that. They can't discriminate and target someone who might have brown skin or have a Spanish accent or Spanish surname since then they'll be subject to discrimination charges.

>> Michael Grant:
There's a large blind eye.

>> Julie Pace:
We have 10 million we know in this country who don't have status. They don't have a legal process to get a visa, we don't have that program; we do for doctors, scientists but not for the essential workers in construction, hotels, manufacturing, landscaping. We don't have a visa a program for that, we have a very small one that doesn't work very well.

>> Michael Grant:
Luis, it seems a couple other costs that are a major component are education and health care costs. Have you seen reliable data on what publicly is spent in Arizona or nationally?

>> Luis Ramirez:
No, I have not seen a specific number on that. But I have seen the effort of senator Kyl in order to include up to $2 billion for recouping of national, the national cost of treating people in an emergency room situation. Once again, it's why are people using the emergency room? Because they don't have any other alternative but where to get medical service. By the time they get to an emergency room it's a situation where they have gotten so bad they can't go on anymore, so they go to an emergency room. Look at any insurance company, how do they manage their costs? Me and my family here in Arizona, you know, the insurance company encourages you to manage those costs by going to a doctor and planning it, getting shots for your kids, you know, prevention aspect of it is something that people in undocumented status don't have the ability to go through it. How do we quantify those costs? We're looking at a hard number, which is easier to quantify, how much a hospital will have to spend on treating individuals when they're not getting reimbursed. That was for treatment for individuals at hospitals but also imprisonment if I recall correctly.

>> Michael Grant:
45 reimbursed to hospitals.

>> Luis Ramirez:
$45 million is a part of what it is costing the state. Do we look at the individual and say what alternatives do they have? They don't have alternatives because of their status.

>> Michael Grant:
We're almost out of time. What's your solution?

>> Luis Ramirez:
I just came back from Tucson where we were meeting with both governors from Arizona and Sonora. We had a presentation; they said we're looking at 18, $20 billion remittance coming back to Mexico each year. If we're looking at a savings rate of 10\% or anybody's income, 90\% of the income is staying in the U.S. If you are extrapolating 18 to 20 billion being sent to Mexico, that's 10\% of what these people are making. 90\% of that income from all those individuals is staying in this country.

>> Michael Grant:
Julie, solution?

>> Julie Pace:
We need a guest worker program that's practical that deals with people here already, the future work force. That deals with the collateral issues like health care and school. Border security, we need that resolved and lots of discussion groups. We saw this past year that a lot of people have opinions about immigration, misinformation, we need to have discussion groups in the communities and we want to solve the issue.

>> Michael Grant:
Julie Pace, thank you for joining us, Luis Ramirez, thanks to you as well. Thanks.

>> Michael Grant:
Governor Napolitano didn't have to look far for a new Supreme Court Justice. The governor picked a former colleague from the attorney general's office. 48-year-old Scott Bales served as Arizona's solicitor general, representing the state before the Supreme Court. A registered Democrat, Bales was also a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office. Bales clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. I spoke to him about his appointment to the high court. Congratulations.

>> Scott Bales:
Thank you.

>> Michael Grant:
When were you clerk for Justice O'Connor?

>> Scott Bales:
I clerked for Justice O'Connor in the 1984-85 term. The clerkships typically start in the summer and end the following summer.

>> Michael Grant:
Describe that experience generally. It's definitely intellectually challenging, no doubt about that?

>> Scott Bales:
It was a wonderful and intense experience. I had never known Sandra O'Connor before going to work for her. She was a marvelous model as a lawyer and as a person. We had a lot of work. I had three other co-clerks and we wrote very extensive memoranda on each case the court heard, and back then the court was hearing about 140 cases a term. We helped with drafting of opinions and review of petitions seeking the court's review. It was challenging, very stimulating, exciting for a young recent law graduate.

>> Michael Grant:
Is that when Scott Bales starts thinking, Supreme Court Justice might be a good idea?

>> Scott Bales:
At that time, I certainly didn't have that thought. My experience and admiration for Sandra O'Connor was a factor in my interest in becoming a judge when it did emerge. I didn't think of applying to become a state judge until after I had served as state solicitor general.

>> Michael Grant:
Does that role, basically the state's primary advocate on appeal on behalf of the state, did that serve you well in moving to the court?

>> Scott Bales:
Well, I think it will make the transition easier in a couple different ways. First as solicitor general, I did appear before the court often, so I was familiar as an advocate with the way the court works. And the solicitor general, in addition to what you mentioned in terms of the role of the state's lawyer, also, the attorney general's office oversees issuance of legal opinions. At the request of state officials will issue opinions and other state officials can rely upon it.

>> Michael Grant :
Kind of gets you in the role?

>> Scott Bales:
Similar to a court opinion issuing process, you're wrestling with complicated legal issues and you're sitting down with other people and coming up with a well-reasoned written explanation. I think that will help.

>> Michael Grant:
You mentioned to me before you went on the air that this is the 30th anniversary of merit selection. I had forgotten that. Frank Gordon was the first Supreme Court Justice appointed under the merit system. As you know, there was some controversy about your appointment Merit system working well in your opinion?

>> Scott Bales:
I'll try to be objective about this. I think if you look at Arizona's judiciary and compare our system with other states around the country, I think a fair observer would say it's worked well. Sandra O'Connor was a product of our merit selection. The current chief judge of the 9th circuit was an Arizona appellate court judge as her first step in her judicial career. Chief Justice McGregor has recently been awarded the Oberman award which recognizes her as the nation's top judge. I think the quality of judges who have emerged through merit selection and the quality as a result of our judicial branch has been very high, and that's a consequence of the merit selection.

>> Michael Grant:
In recent years, a certain amount of tension between the legislative branch and executive branch and judicial branch is contemplated by the constitution. It seems in recent years the tension has grown. Is there a different level to that conflict and tension today than perhaps we saw 5, 10, 15 years ago?

>> Scott Bales:
I think perhaps some of the rhetoric might have become a little more heated. I think that itself may reflect maybe a bit of a misunderstanding what it is courts are about and how they have come to their decision. I think you're right, that some tension is inevitable. Invariably, they are going to issue decisions that one of the other branches may disagree with. I think it's important people understand it is the role under our system of government to basically serve as referees.

>>Michael Grant:
Sometimes the referees are going to get ragged.

>> Scott Bales:
Sometimes one side or the other is unhappy with the result.

>> Michael Grant:
congratulations. Good luck.

>> Scott Bales:
Thank you, Michael.

>> Michael Grant:
These men stand on the Nogales side of the border, waiting for a chance to jump over the fence. This one tried, but didn't make it far. He is one of more than 1100 who are caught every day trying to cross into Arizona's Tucson sector border patrol area. We look at why it's the busiest in the nation. Wednesday on "Horizon."

>> Michael Grant:
Thursday, "Horizon" concludes our special series "Arizona's Border Crisis" by looking at the politics of illegal immigration. We'll also show how one employer keeps illegal immigrants from getting on the payroll in the first place. Then of course on Friday, we'll have the journalists roundtable. Thank you very much for being here this evening. I'm Michael Grant. Have a great one. Good night.

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