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Illegal immigrants again in the budget spotlight in California

July 10, 2009 |  9:26 am

As California lawmakers struggle with a budget gap that has now grown to $26.3 billion, one of the hottest topics for many taxpayers is the cost to the state of illegal immigrants, write Anna Gorman and Teresa Watanabe.

"The question of whether taxpayers should provide services to illegal residents became a major political issue in California's last deep recession, culminating in the ballot fight over Proposition 187 in 1994. That history could repeat itself in the current downturn, as activists opposed to illegal immigration have launched a campaign for an initiative that would, among other things, cut off welfare payments to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. Those children are eligible for welfare benefits because they are U.S. citizens.

"State welfare officials estimate that cutting off payments to illegal immigrants for their U.S.-born children could save about $640 million annually if it survives legal challenges."

The report also includes the following findings:

--California has roughly 2.7 million illegal residents, about 7% of the state’s population. State officials estimate that they add between $4 billion and $6 billion in costs, primarily for prisons and jails, schools and emergency rooms.

--Beyond those services, the undocumented population adds to the overall cost of other parts of local government, including police and fire protection, highway maintenance and libraries.

--On the other side of the ledger, undocumented residents pay taxes -- sales taxes on what they buy, gasoline taxes when they fuel their cars, property taxes if they own homes. How much those taxes come to is hotly debated, although most researchers agree that the short-term costs to state and local government are bigger than the revenues.

A new analysis of date from a 2008 report from the Pew Hispanic Center (which you can download here) found that about three-quarters (76%) of the unauthorized immigrants in the U.S are Hispanic and that the majority of undocumented immigrants (59%) are from Mexico. However, figures do suggest that that illegal immigration -- at least to California -- is slowing.

Read the rest of the Los Angeles Times report here.

Click here for more posts on immigration.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

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