Don't Scapegoat Aliens

One of the most popular canards about illegal immigrants is that they don't pay taxes but put a stress on health and social services.

Investor's Business Daily joined that whining chorus on June 3, editorializing that the US "cannot afford to be the emergency room for the whole world while US citizens remain in need." It cited a Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons' report in its spring 2005 issue that the flood of illegal aliens coming into the US is forcing the closure of hospitals, spreading disease and threatening America's health care system. Between 1993 and 2003, JAPS reported, some 60 California hospitals closed their doors and another 24 are on the verge of closure largely because of uncompensated medical costs due to the required treatment of any illegal alien who can make it to an emergency room.

"The cost of emergency care for illegal immigrants is enormous. During 2002, 38 Arizona medical centers surveyed by the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association reported losses on foreign-national patients of $153 million," IBD noted.

"Typical is the experience of Copper Queen Hospital in Bisbee, Ariz., population 6,000. Chief Executive Officer Jim Dickson says about 15% of his patients are poor Mexican nationals. He was forced to deal with the cost of treating them by laying off 35 of the hospital's 130 employees and eliminating medical services such as the long-term care center. Financial losses at Copper Queen forced the closure of its maternity ward."

JAPS and IBD blame illegal aliens for, among other things, draining $12 million from the University Medical Center in Tucson and forcing the closure of the Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego. They cited the case of Cristobal Silverio, a fruit picker who emigrated with his wife and three children from Mexico to Stockton, Calif. When his wife gave birth prematurely to a fourth child, who spent three months in a neonatal incubator, the hospital was stuck with $300,000 in bills.

Hold on. The problem is not that there are too many undocumented Mexicans. The problem is that they don't have health insurance.

It isn't as if immigrants don't pay taxes. They might hold down wages for manual labor and are useful to union-busters, which contributes to resentment among working-class citizens, but immigrants have no way of avoiding sales taxes on the goods they buy. They also pay property taxes indirectly through their rents. And although many employers choose to hire illegal aliens in the "underground" economy that is not reported to the IRS, reputable companies deduct payroll taxes from their employees. Undocumented aliens just don't get credit for it.

The New York Times reported April 5 that an estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the US are providing Social Security with a $7-billion-a-year subsidy.

Since 1986, when the Immigration Reform and Control Act set penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, most such workers have been forced to buy fake ID's to get a job, Jim Wilson wrote for the Times.

Starting in the late 1980s, the Social Security Administration received a flood of W2 earnings reports with incorrect or fictitious Social Security numbers.

The file is growing, on average, by more than $50 billion a year, generating $6 billion to $7 billion in Social Security tax revenue and about $1.5 billion in Medicare taxes.

An audit found that more than half of the 100 employers filing the most earnings reports with false Social Security numbers from 1997 through 2001 came from just three states: California, Texas and Illinois. According to an analysis by the Government Accountability Office, about 17% of the businesses with inaccurate W2's were restaurants, 10% were construction companies and 7% were farm operations.

The influx of illegal aliens also has serious medical consequences, wrote Madeline Pelner Cosman, author of the JAPS report. She wrote that "many illegal aliens harbor fatal diseases that American medicine fought and vanquished long ago, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis."

All the more reason to implement a single-payer health insurance program that gives every resident -- whether citizen or alien -- access to primary-care physicians, so they don't have to show up at the emergency room when their condition becomes acute. After all, 45 million Americans -- mainly the working poor -- also are uninsured because their employers cannot or will not pay for health care. Hospitals don't fare much better collecting from citizens who have exceeded their insurance coverage, which is why illness and medical debts are the cause for 50% of bankruptcies in the US.

The new bankruptcy law will let hospitals squeeze their debtors longer, but it won't address the reasons that so many working-class families are forced into bankruptcy (including three-quarters who were insured when they first got sick).

The federal government proposes to reimburse hospitals in border areas for up to 30% of their unpaid bills for immigrant care through 2008. That's only a Band-Aid. Single-payer health care for all is the cure.

Impeach the Liar

As progressives step up the call for congressional hearings on the fraudulent basis for the invasion of Iraq (see Norman Solomon's column, page 20), let's set aside the nonsense that Republicans are standing on any sort of principle.

Republicans who impeached President Bill Clinton for lying about a private affair now have no interest in investigating allegations, substantiated by the British Downing Street memo, that George W. Bush and his advisers lied to start a war that the facts did not justify (see Jason Leopold's column, page 9).

Now it turns out that Bush's undersecretary of state for "arms control," John Bolton, orchestrated the ouster of global arms control official Jose Bustani in early 2002 because Bustani's Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was making progress toward getting arms inspectors back into Iraq. As Charles J. Hanley reported June 4 for the Associated Press, Bustani stood in the way of Bush's war with Iraq, so the Bush administration threatened to withhold dues to the UN-affiliated organization if Bustani remained in charge. In an extraordinary special session, one-third of the member states agreed with the US to boot Bustani on April 22, 2002, one year after he had been unanimously re-elected to a five-year term. Bolton is now Bush's nominee to be US ambassador to the UN.

Bush and his administration have played fast and loose with the facts ever since they hit town and claimed the Clinton folks had torn up the West Wing. As former National Security Aide Richard Clarke has testified, the Bushites brushed off concerns about al Qaeda before 9/11 but were looking for any excuse to attack Saddam Hussein. After 9/11, they saw their opportunity to make their move on Iraq with the smoke and mirror of the "war on terror."

Congressional Republicans also have no taste for a probe of allegations that US forces abused captives and rendered others for torture by other client regimes. The GOP doesn't seem to care that someone in the White House for political reasons blew the cover of an undercover agent, putting other counter-terrorism operatives at risk.

Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, is leading the effort to start an inquiry. With 88 other Congress members he has written a letter to Bush seeking answers. So far, he has gotten no response. Probably the only way to get a response is for Conyers to become Judiciary chairman and start issuing subpoenas. In the meantime, see his letter at johnconyers.org or call 313-438-2004. -- JMC

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