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Rise in public benefits to children of illegal immigrants in L.A. County has supervisor 'very concerned'

September 3, 2010 |  2:47 pm

Welfare payments to children of illegal immigrants in Los Angeles County increased in July to $52 million, prompting renewed calls from one county supervisor to rein in public benefits to such families.

The payments, made to illegal immigrants for their U.S. citizen children, included $30 million in food stamps and $22 million from the CalWORKS welfare program, according to Los Angeles County figures released Friday by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.

The new figure represents an increase of $3.7 million from July 2009 and makes up 23% of all county welfare and food stamp assistance, according to county records.

Last year, welfare and food stamp issuances totaled nearly $570 million, an amount projected to exceed $600 million this year. In addition, county taxpayers spend $550 million in public safety -- mostly for jail costs -- and nearly $500 million for healthcare for illegal immigrants, Antonovich said.

“The supervisor is very concerned,” said Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell. “He believes we have an economic catastrophe on our hands.”

Shirley Christensen of the county Department of Public Social Services said the number of households with illegal immigrant parents and U.S. citizen children receiving welfare increased by 7% from January to June of this year.

“With the economy the way it is, a lot of people have had to avail themselves of programs they may not have needed before,” Christensen said. “Everyone is taking a hit, including undocumented immigrants.”

Amid continued economic gloom, debate has intensified over the public cost of providing benefits to illegal immigrants and their U.S. citizen children. In recent months, calls have grown for a constitutional amendment that would effectively deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants, whose numbers have increased from 2.7 million in 2003 to 4 million in 2008, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

At present, U.S. citizenship is automatically granted to children born on U.S. soil. Last month, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced he might introduce a constitutional amendment to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants. Antonovich and several legal scholars, however, argue that a federal statute is sufficient to change the law.

But even some immigration hawks are wary of such a move. Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based research organization that supports immigration restrictions, said ending birthright citizenship would hurt children for their parents' misdeeds, require new federal registration systems and create other problems. The ultimate solution, he said, is to continue driving down illegal immigration with tough enforcement.

-- Teresa Watanabe

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