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Border & Immigration

San Diego County Supervisors Debate What To Call People In The U.S. Illegally

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A routine item up for consideration by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors led to a debate about word choice when referring to people who reside in the county without proper documentation.

The supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to remove the terminology "illegal immigration" from board policy M-59. Chairman Bill Horn and Supervisor Dianne Jacob cast the dissenting votes against the word change.

Supervisor Greg Cox, who proposed the change, said he believes the county needs to "remain consistent" and should follow the example of what he said legislators are doing in Washington, D.C.

Horn, who said he sometimes isn't "politically correct," said the county spends millions of dollars on residents in the country illegally, including $52 million locally for inmates who are incarcerated and in the U.S. illegally.

Jacob, who asked Cox what the difference was between using illegal or undocumented, said she thought the policy was titled correctly and said only those who reside in the county legally are entitled to taxpayer benefits.

Cox also recommended the board remove a point from the illegal immigration policy that states the board would support legislation that would repeal federal mandates that make immigrants living illegally in the U.S. eligible for health, education and other benefits.

"The first bullet is an advocacy position that I don't think is really in our realm," Cox said. "We don't have a foreign policy."

Supervisor Dave Roberts said he supported changing the policy because he believes it should reflect the needs of San Diegans.

"Words do matter," Roberts said. "I just look at our local communities and our local children. I want to make sure that all kids in our schools have access to health care. I want to make sure they have access to education. It's through no fault of their own what the status is of their parents — that's the federal government's responsibility to decide. We need to take care of children while they're here in this county."

The supervisors were in agreement over one point — they want to get federal reimbursement dollars for county services used by people living here illegally.

"We have a lot of needs in our county and in our country in terms of costs," Jacob said. "There are a lot of needs that are not met. If someone is illegally in our country, in my opinion — and I feel strongly about that — they do not deserve taxpayer benefits, period."

The board policy was one of dozens of policies up for periodic review under the Sunset Review Process. According to county staff, the review process is "to ensure that obsolete policies and administrative and regulatory code provisions are deleted and remaining policies reflect current board standards and practices."

The supervisors are scheduled to formally adopt the ordinances on Dec. 15.

Editor's note: This story has been edited to reflect the standard KPBS and NPR apply in referring to people living in the U.S. illegally. In general, KPBS avoids using the terms "illegal," "undocumented" and "aliens" to describe people. Here's the explanation from the NPR Ethics Handbook.