Study: Illegal Immigration Costs County Over $100 Million

Direct expenditures by the county of San Diego in the 2006-07 fiscal year on behalf of illegal immigrants totaled $101.5 million, according to a report presented Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors.

Nearly half of that sum -- $48.5 million -- was spent by the Sheriff's Department to house inmates in area jails, according to the report by John Weeks, a San Diego State University professor and director of the school's International Population Center.

For those jail costs, the county was reimbursed $2.3 million by the federal government, according to the report.

The study was requested by the Board of Supervisors, which received the results at Tuesday's meeting and voted unanimously to pass the information to the county's congressional delegation and supervisors in other border counties.

"They're very telling findings," Supervisor Bill Horn said.

Weeks estimated that there are nearly 210,000 illegal immigrants living in San Diego County, comprising 6.8 percent of the population.

That means that the county directly spends $527 for each person, and that those expenditures amount to $35.21 per resident, his report says.

The figures only include county expenses, not those of hospitals and schools, which are funded privately or by other levels of government.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob said the costs of illegal immigration come out of the general fund.

"That's money we could be spending on others things -- fixing our roads, our libraries, our parks, our trails," she said.

Besides sheriff's expenses, the District Attorney's Office spent $9 million to prosecute undocumented migrants, who make up an estimated 6.5 percent of criminal defendants, according to Weeks' report.

The county Office of the Public Defender spent $5.5 million to defend the undocumented who were charged with crimes; the Office of the Alternate Public Defender shelled out $1.6 million; and the county Probation Department paid $10 million, the report shows.

What was not spent on law enforcement activities was chalked up in the report to health care and county park operations.

The supervisors blasted the federal government's failure to control illegal immigration, or compensate local governments that bear its costs.

"The federal government is robbing the people -- the taxpayers -- of San Diego County because of its failure," Jacob said.

Supervisor Greg Cox noted the government has a program to reimburse local governments for the impact of illegal immigration, but said President Bush has not provided funds for years.

Horn presented an oversized poster board invoice to an aide to Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Carlsbad, detailing the county's expenses.

"I really want the money this time," Horn said.

The supervisor said Bilbray has found three areas where the federal government could help the county:

  • by sharing background information on detainees with the Sheriff's Department
  • by tapping a Social Security Administration fund where tax payments that don't match social security numbers are diverted
  • by tapping unused Medicare funds designed to reimburse hospitals for uncompensated health care.

    In 1990, there were an estimated 64,000 illegal immigrants in San Diego County, making up 3.2 percent of the total population of 1.99 million people, according to Weeks' report.

    With the county's population now pegged at 3.1 million, the growth of local illegal immigrants has outstripped the county's phenomenal overall growth, he said.

    Weeks blamed federal policies for changing the nature of illegal immigration.

    Migrants who used to "cycle back and forth" across the border with Mexico now stay in the United States, he said. That's because the 1986 Immigration Reform Act gave hope to illegal immigrants that they might eventually receive amnesty, and tougher enforcement made return trips to the United States more dangerous and expensive, the professor said.

    Even though illegal immigration has been a heated issue in recent years, only one member of the public spoke before the board, and he supported the study. There were no protesters.

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