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The Border’s Bottom Line

Your browser does not support this object. View the original here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0h-4iO7wwg

Video published July 23, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: What are the true costs of illegal immigration in California? KPBS Reporter Joanne Faryon brings us a report on the financial implications of the state's large illegal immigrant population.

— Three million unauthorized immigrants live here in California. The statistics raise an important economic question – just what are the financial implications of such a large undocumented population?

Audio

Aired 7/20/10

Three million unauthorized immigrants live here in California. The statistics raise an important economic question – just what are the financial implications of such a large undocumented population? KPBS begins its special Envision series, Crossing the Line: Border Stories.

Special Feature Crossing The Line: Border Stories

Envision San Diego takes a closer look at illegal immigration, exploring why migrants take big risks to work in the U.S., what happens to the children of deported parents, and how this region benefits from -- and pays a price for -- its unauthorized migrant labor pool.

It's a question Martha Torkington asks herself often. She owns a horse ranch in the south westerly edge of San Diego County.

“You can look up on the hillside and see the tracks. They look almost like water tracks but they are human tracks coming down,” Torkington says, pointing to the faded yellow tracks that traverse down the hillside across from her property.

Border Patrol at the fence which separates the U.S. from Mexico in southwest San Diego County.
Enlarge this image

Above: Border Patrol at the fence which separates the U.S. from Mexico in southwest San Diego County.

On the other side of the hill is Mexico. Torkington has seen her share of unauthorized immigration trickle past this hillside.

“The ones who do want to come in and contribute and participate in the United States, we want them. The other side is we don’t want to support them. It's tough. It’s a tough situation.”

Just whether unauthorized immigrants cost more than they contribute is a complicated question.

“Immigration most sociologists will tell you have short term costs but long term benefits,” says John Skrentny, a UCSD sociology professor and director of The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies.

“The fiscal impact tends to be positive for the federal government and negative for localities and states,” Skrentny says.

A few years ago the Congressional Budget Office looked at the various studies of the financial impacts of unauthorized immigrants to state and local budgets.

Their report looked at health care, law enforcement, and education.

About two million school age children in the U.S. are unauthorized immigrants. By law, all children have access to public school regardless of their immigration status. Studies estimate it costs between 20 and 40 percent more to teach kids who are not fluent in English.

Richard Barrera is president of the San Diego Unified School district. He says the benefits of educating all kids far outweigh the costs.

"We realize that every kid we educate is going to be a contributor to our community and our country. We all benefit when we educated children. “

Many of the financial impact studies conclude that at the local and state level, the cost of providing education, health care and law enforcement cost more then unauthorized immigrants pay in taxes. Especially here in California, the state with the greatest number of unauthorized immigrants. However, at the federal level, and over the long-run, it’s a different story.

”It would be different if were getting waves of undocumented elderly who would come here and impose immediately all kinds of costs on the health care system and they wouldn’t be working and they wouldn’t be generating much tax revenue they wouldn’t be generating much wealth that would be a different story,” Skrentny says.

Studies also show half of all unauthorized immigrants file income tax returns and many pay sales and property taxes.

Richard Barrera believes the debate over the cost of unauthorized immigration is being fueled by bad economic times and politicians offering easy answers to complex problems.

“They want an easy answer and they want to be able to say if we only took a group and their families and we rounded them up and took them back across the border, that our lives would get easier.”

Martha Torkington points to a black knit cap she sees on the hillside as she tours a journalist along the hills separating the U.S. from Mexico.

Martha Torkington points to tracks on the hillside across from her property.
Enlarge this image

Above: Martha Torkington points to tracks on the hillside across from her property.

"That’s a perfect example of a piece of clothing you’ll see on the trails that they follow,” Torkington says.

The cap is a hallmark of an illegal trek made in the dark - migrants wear black to cross in the night and then discard their clothes for more "American-looking" clothes, Torkington says.

There are also two U.S. Border Patrol trucks making their way through the hills and a series of lights that almost make the hillside look like a ballpark.

It turns out one of the largest and most tangible costs of unauthorized immigration is right here in front of Martha Torkington’s property.

It is the cost of keeping undocumented migrants from jumping the fence and crossing over this hill.

This year the U.S. Border Patrol will spend $3.6 billion patrolling the country’s borders -- almost triple the amount spent 10 years ago.

Comments

Avatar for user 'liberalfascist'

liberalfascist | July 20, 2010 at 10:26 a.m. ― 4 years ago

I kept hearing the phrase, "unauthorized immigrant." You can call them vanilla ice cream if you like, but the they are illegal aliens.

I work in the construction industry - which is filled with illegal aliens. They have fake documents and since no one is required to check, it's all done with a wink and a nod. You mentioned "they pay taxes." They absolutely do, but they don't pay their share. They fill out the same forms we all do - and list at least 9 dependents.

Please. These people are costing us billions of dollars - and they are illegal aliens, not unauthorized migrants.

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Avatar for user 'ronk1957'

ronk1957 | July 20, 2010 at 11:02 a.m. ― 4 years ago

Did you notice the UNDOCUMENTED BS also?
I am also UNDOCUMENTED , I am an UNDOCUMENTED sex therapist but the court charged me with rape and sentenced me to 10 years. My homeboy who is an undocumented pharmacist was also convicted for being a drug dealer. I just can't understand it !They even sent the police gang unit after us even after we explained that me and my homeboys are all UNDOCUMENTED social workers! I think the author of this article smokes to much UNDOCUMENTED medicine.

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Avatar for user 'countryboy60'

countryboy60 | July 20, 2010 at 2:20 p.m. ― 4 years ago

I'M REALLY TIRED OF ALL THESE IDIOT ILLEGAL LOVERS !!

I HAVE FRIENDS AND RELATIVES THAT HAVE NOT HAD A JOB FOR ALMOST 2 YEARS NOW BECAUSE SO

MANY COMPANIES HAVE HIRED CHEAP ILLEGALS TO WORK WITHOUT BEING PAID A FAIR HOURLY WAGE

AND NO BENEFITS .

IF YOU REALLLLLLLLY WANT TO STOP !! ILLEGALS FROM COMING TO USA .

THEN PUT ALL THE OWNERS THAT HIRE ILLEGALS IN JAIL FOR A GUARANTEED MINIMUM OF 5 YEARS

!!

I GUARANTEE THAT AFTER A FEW DOZEN OWNERS GO TO JAIL ,, THEN NO COMPANY WILL EVER HIRE

ANY ILLEGAL WORKER AGAIN !

IS THAT TOOOOOOO SIMPLE TO UNDERSTAND ???

IF THERE IS NO WORK ,, THEN ILLEGALS WILL NOT ! COME TO USA ..

HOW STUPID IS OUR AMERICAN GOVERNMENT . ??

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION COULD AND SHOULD HAVE BEEN STOPPED 15 YEARS AGO IF OUR GOVERNMENT

WOULD HAVE MADE TOUGH LAWS ! AND ENFORCED THEM !

MY WIFE HAS LOST 2 TO 3 GOOD JOBS BECAUSE THE COMPANY OWNERS LAID HER OFF THEN HIRED…

NO JOBS ! ,, AND NO WELFARE ! FOR ANY ILLEGALS !!

AND NO CITIZENSHIP FOR BABIES OF ILLEGALS .

IF STRONG LAWS ARE MADE FOR THE ABOVE THEN NO MORE ILLEGALS WILL COME TO USA AND MOST

WILL BE DEPORTED .

CHECK PRISON RECORDS AND SEE THE REAL 100% truth about how many millions of ILLEGALS

are in our Prisons for MURDER ,, RAPE ,, CHILD MOLESTERS , ETC. ETC.

THEN THINK ABOUT IT COSTING THE TAXPAYERS $50,000 DOLLARS PER YEAR PER PRISONER TO KEEP

THEM IN PRISON .

THINK ABOUT OUR SCHOOLS NEEDING TO HIRE SPANISH SPEAKING TEACHERS TO TEACH ILLEGAL KIDS

AND MOST GET FREE BREAKFAST AND LUNCH .

WOW !! HOW STUPID IS AMERICA !

ALL BECAUSE POLITICIANS WANT FUTURE VOTES IF AMNESTY WILL BE PASSED .

AND DON'T FORGET WELFARE FOR EACH BABY A WOMAN CAN POP OUT EVERY YEAR AND SOME HAVE AS

MANY AS 8 OR MORE KIDS JUST FOR EXTRA WELFARE $$$$$$$$$ .

DON'T BELIEVE ME ,,, SEARCH THE INTERNET FOR FACTS !! & CALIFORNIA IS THE MOST STUPID

STATE OF ALL STATES !!

AMERICANS COULD HAVE UNEMPLOYMENT STIMULUS FOR 4 OR 5 YEARS IF WE DID NOT NEED TO PAY ,

PAY , PAY , !! FOR CRAP NEEDED BY ILLEGALS ! , LIKE WELFARE , FOOD -STAMPS , LOW COST

RENTS , EXTRA SCHOOLS AND SPECIAL TEACHERS FOR ILLEGALS , FREE HEALTH CARE , ETC. ETC.

ETC.

YES !! I FEEL SORRY FOR POOR PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD ,, BUT OUR OWN PEOPLE SHOULD

COME " FIRST " !!!!!!! OK ?

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Avatar for user 'Joanne Faryon'

Joanne Faryon, KPBS Staff | July 20, 2010 at 3:50 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Liberalfascist,

You bring up a valid point about the use of the term "illegal" versus "unauthorized" and "undocumented." In this report, I use the term "unauthorized" because it casts a wide net in terms of all immigrants who are in the country without documentation, including those who overstayed visas (40 percent of all unauthorized immigrants) and those who entered the country illegally. It is also the term used by many federal government agencies, including the Congressional Budget Office in its report "The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments." http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/87xx/doc8711/12-6-Immigration.pdf Thanks for your comments.
Joanne Faryon
KPBS Producer/Reporter

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