Wednesday, September 18

California immigration: finger-pointing or problem-solving?


California immigration: finger-pointing or problem-solving?

Demonization of undocumented immigrants won’t solve state’s
problems

By Octavio Romano, Ph.D.

Gov. Pete Wilson demands the equivalent of $8 to $12 yearly from
every single American family. That is two to three billion federal
dollars annually for an indefinite number of years. He claims it is
for the state’s expenses incurred by undocumented Mexican
immigrants.

Wilson’s demands create even more problems. Should families in
other states pay for the four to five billion hours of labor
performed annually by undocumented immigrants to the immeasurable
benefit of California’s urban business, its agribusiness and its
wealthier families who employ undocumented immigrants for low-paid
maid and gardening services?

Strangely, in this scenario, the governor never speaks of the
federal government’s 2.2 billion payment to California under the
U.S. Immigration Reform and Control Act and the State Legalization
Impact Assistance. Grants, one-half billion dollars in 1994 alone!
Furthermore, this program has reduced the number of undocumented
immigrants in California by 1,600,000!

Surely Wilson knows that in addition to the immigration reform
monies, Washington spends more than $500 million per year to
support California agriculture, where many of the state’s
undocumented immigrants may be found. Washington’s agriculture tax
dollars are the equivalent of $6,897 for each of the 85,000 farms
in the state. In point of fact, California’s farming interests
receive more money annually from the federal government than they
pay the state in property taxes. This is totally unjust to the
state’s homeowners, many of whom, certainly, would enjoy homes
whose property taxes were federally subsidized each year.

While promoting himself nationally, Wilson foists upon the
American public one of the most incredible distortions in the
annals of American politics. Let’s glance at recent American
history. For example, many recent American presidents have claimed
their "devil" against which they were fighting to save the United
States.

Kennedy had the Communists at our borders; Johnson, the
Vietnamese Communists and the domino effect; Reagan, the Russian
Communists and the evils of Grenada; Bush, the Iraqis and their
potential control of U.S. sources of oil, as well as Panama’s
drugs. The only recent president who does not seem be fighting a
monumentally evil force on the edge of destroying "America," is
Bill Clinton. In this sense, like Jimmy Carter before him,
President Clinton has created a vacuum.

Newt Gingrich, for one, is moving to fill this void by saving
America from the nation-destroying evils of "liberalism" and the
"politically correct." He believes that he is really, really
correct politically and that the "politically correct" have been
incorrect all along.

Where does all this leave Pete Wilson? Why, without a devil to
fight! After all, the Cold War is over. The United States is doing
"free enterprise" with North Vietnam. The United States trades with
China. Oil flows freely from the women-stomping dictatorship of
Kuwait. And Gingrich is fighting internal evils. Has the world
isolated Wilson politically?

Enter stage south, the evil Mexicans!

They will destroy California (read United States) if we don’t
watch out! Wilson is into big-time politics. He has created his
"devil."

The main vehicle promoting Wilson’s ambitions is the 1994-95
California state budget. Here, the governor proclaims to the nation
that some two million Mexicans have invaded the state and, having
done so, do nothing. They are leeching parasites attached to
welfare, the health system, the schools and the state’s prisons, he
claims.

"Seven hundred thousand new jobs need to be created to support
illegal immigration costs" of more than two billion dollars,
trumpets the governor in his 1994-95 Summary of the Budget. In this
way, he says, not only do they do nothing, they pay nothing, and
"the hard working citizens of the state" must absorb these
costs!

It is incredible that Wilson has not told the nation that his
fabricated "devil" also works hard and pays taxes. No where in his
documents, commercials or press releases does he mention the taxes
undocumented California workers pay each year to the state. Yet,
according to official California records, undocumented immigrants
pay state income taxes, state sales taxes, state and local property
taxes, state vehicle license and registration fees, state excise
taxes, state gasoline taxes, state lottery revenues and local sales
taxes.

In a report issued by the governor’s own office to the General
Accounting Office of the Federal Government, California estimated
the taxes paid to the state by undocumented immigrants, primarily
Mexican, as ranging from a low of $528 million to a high of $1.4
billion per year, with a median of around $900 million. Obviously,
the governor is saying one thing to the federal government and
exactly the opposite to the people of California.

In addition, California’s undocumented workers pay taxes to the
federal government. These taxes are for income, excise, the Federal
Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), unemployment insurance and
gasoline. According to the General Accounting Office, this produced
federal revenues estimated at $1.3 billion for 1992 alone!

It is clear that undocumented workers in California have paid at
least $2.2 billion yearly in state and federal taxes. This amount
roughly equals the costs incurred as announced by the governor.

Extrapolating from taxes paid, undocumented workers in
California contribute between $13 and $15 billion to California’s
economy while they perform over four billion hours of labor each
year.

But, irrespective of how much in taxes undocumented immigrants
pay, the structure of wages paid in California cannot support the
process of continually increasing government spending (34 to 55
billion since 1985, a 62 percent price increase), while
simultaneously keeping the lower echelons of the tax base
static.

Specifically, if the lowest wages in California were to increase
from $4 per hour to $6, the taxes paid by undocumented immigrants
would total between $3.5 and $5.5 billion, thus paying for all
expenses and easily leaving a healthy surplus for the state. It is
clear, therefore, that most of Wilson’s problems concern not the
immigrants’ social status or country of origin, but the wage
structure in which they labor.

Obviously, eliminating undocumented workers (by deporting them
to their countries of origin) and replacing them with domestic
workers at $4 an hour would not solve California’s problems as long
as the wage structure remains the same. The faces would change, but
the economic problems would continue or become even worse.

In this scenario, Gov. Pete Wilson is promising a tax cut!

All in all, the day may yet come when Californians will give
retroactive thanks to the undocumented immigrants for having "saved
their state" from even more severe economic problems and a more
onerous deficit, much as the immigrants on the East Coast did
historically. After all, more than four billion hours of labor at
the lowest of wages, $14 billion into the state’s economy, more
than $2.2 billion paid in taxes, all in one year, are not the work
of "evil devils" who are out to economically destroy
California.

This being the case, Wilson’s xenophobia is irrational. It
appeals only to those who have irrational fears. Or, it appeals to
those who want to use xenophobic politics for domestic political
ends.

Romano is a professor emeritus of behavioral sciences at UC
Berkeley. Presently, he is the editor of TQS News: A National
Chicano Newsletter in Berkeley.

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