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State not tracking benefits for aliens

Lawmakers study restricted access by Sarah D. Wire | January 23, 2011 at 4:22 a.m.

— During the campaign last fall, Gov. Mike Beebe told voters the state tracks how much it spends to provide services to people who are in the country illegally, but there is no central reporting and few state agencies said they track illegal aliens’ use of public services.

Beebe’s office has since said that the governor misspoke.

“There’s no centralized tracking, no,” Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample told the

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

last week.

In 2010, seven states and the District of Columbia passed legislation relating to aliens and their eligibility for public benefits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Washington. Three states required state agencies to deny some public benefits to illegal aliens. Four states expanded access to state benefits.

Legislation to restrict access to public benefits in Arkansas has not been filed in the 2011 legislative session, though two lawmakers are considering a bill they say would require those applying for a public service to prove they are in the country legally. Attempts to put on the ballot a state constitutional amendment restricting illegal aliens’ access to public services have failed twice.

No comprehensive report of the cost borne by Arkansas because of illegal aliens’ use of public services has been completed since one was done in 2007 at the Legislature’s request. Many state agencies do not keep upto-date data on the topic, citing federal laws that preclude them from denying certain services.

Federal law restricts public services available to illegal aliens to benefits such as education, immunizations and emergency medical treatment.

At the Oct. 13 debate between gubernatorial candidates, Beebe said “the state can and should, within the parameters of the resources we have ... gather as much information as we possibly can demographically and statistically on anything that the state is spending money on and specifically on the issue of people who are here illegally.”

When asked if state government already monitored the use of public services by illegal aliens, Beebe incorrectly said the Department of Finance Administration kept track.

Department Director Richard Weiss later said, however, that the department does not collect information specifically on the use of public resources by illegal aliens. The department later provided some figures about three agencies, most of which related to both legal immigrants and illegal aliens.

A 2007 interim legislative study of state agencies reported that education and imprisonment expenses for legal and illegal aliens totaled about $169 million. The study did not have a separate amount for illegal aliens.

A separate study, released in April 2007 by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute and funded by Arkansas’ Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, reported that aliens paid $20 million more in taxes than they used in state services. The study made no distinction between legal immigrants and illegal aliens.

It found that the state spent $237 million in 2004 on education, health services and corrections for aliens but took in $257 million in tax revenue from the same population.

The study also reported that aliens directly and indirectly generate almost $3 billion a year in business revenue in Arkansas.

The study used census data to estimate that 101,000 people living in the state were foreignborn. And that about half of that number were in the state illegally.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation is considering whether to pay for another study of immigration in Arkansas.

WHAT’S PROVIDED

The agencies questioned for the 2007 legislative report said three years later that they do not keep track of the number of illegal aliens who use public services or the resulting cost to taxpayers.

Some said they don’t have the resources to track the information. Others said it is irrelevant to keep residency statistics on services the federal government forbids them from withholding.

Department of Human Services

According to the 2007 report, 3,538 people without legal documents received benefits through the Arkansas Department of Human Services. The bulk — 3,445 — were getting prenatal care.

That number includes illegal aliens and people legally in the United States but who have been here for less than five years and do not qualify for Medicaid.

Arkansas is one of 11 states that provides prenatal care regardless of the mother’s legal status, according to the National Immigration Law Center.

“When a woman goes untreated prenatally there can be a lot of complications,” department spokesman Julie Munsell said. “It behooves the state to go in as a preventive measure and treat that child in utero.”

Munsell said the department does not keep track of the number of aliens who use its services.

She said 3,892 people without legal documents — not all of whom are illegal aliens — participated in the prenatal program in fiscal 2010.

Department of Health

The Department of Health does not require proof of citizenship as a prerequisite of its 12 programs. It does collect ethnicity information.

The department is federally required to provide services to every person regardless of legal status for four of the programs: Maternity; Women, Infants and Children; Tuberculosis; and HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Nathaniel Smith, Department of Health deputy director for public health programs, said the department treats every person regardless of legal status and does not ask for proof of citizenship.

“The cost of providing services only to documented U.S. citizens might be prohibitively expensive, since it would require us to implement a program to determine immigration status for all those we serve. It would also be unduly burdensome for the Arkansans we serve,” Smith said.

The 2007 study estimated that providing department services to illegal aliens costs the state $199,340. That estimate included $25,545 the state spent on the services Arkansas is federally required to provide regardless of legal status. Excluding those services, the state spent an estimated $173,795 in 2006.

An estimate of what it would cost to check the documents of every person asking for services showed the state would lose $1.12 million.

Correction Department and Department of Community Correction

In fiscal 2010, five illegal aliens were admitted to a Department of Community Correction facility. An additional 396 were on probation or parole. The aliens were supervised for an average of 923 days, at a total cost of $483,075.

Arkansas is one of 26 states that does not have an immigration detention center.

According to the Department of Correction, there are 119 known illegal aliens serving prison sentences in Arkansas. The department does not know the citizenship status of an additional 126 people. There were 16,246 inmates under the department’s jurisdiction as of Tuesday.

Spokesman Dina Tyler said the department sends a monthly report to the Department of Homeland Security with information on any person for whom it cannot determine residency status. She said some of those people may be in the country legally.

Department of Education

The 2007 report estimated the state spent $78.7 million to educate children who are in the country illegally. The federal government requires the state to educate all children regardless of legal status.

Department spokesman Julie Johnson Thompson said they don’t keep track of how many of the state’s 465,000 students are in the country illegally.

“We’re going to educate any child that walks through the doors, so we’re not going to check the Social Security numbers to see if a child is legitimate or not,” Thompson said. “Our charge is to educate the children in the state. It doesn’t mention citizenry.”

The department does not estimate how much it costs to educate illegal aliens.

Department of Higher Education

The department overseeing higher education does not keep track of the number of illegal aliens who attend Arkansas’ colleges and universities.

“That’s really not our business; our business is educating students, not determining legal status,” Department of Higher Education spokesman Brandi Hinkle said.

She said students do not have to verify their legal status to attend Arkansas colleges, but schools are required to ensure that scholarships and in-state tuition rates go only to U.S. citizens, though this does not necessarily mean Arkansas residents.

Reps. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, and Jon Woods, RSpringdale, introduced House Bill 1008 to require U.S. citizenship or legal residency in the U.S. (not necessarily in Arkansas) to receive in-state tuition rates at state-supported higher-education institutions.

“We don’t allow someone from Texas to come over to Arkansas with in-state tuition; why should someone from a whole other country be given that opportunity?” Harris said.

The bill is in the House Education Committee. A 2008 executive order from Beebe prohibited giving in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens — even those who graduated from an Arkansas high school.

The department supports the bill, which Hinkle said adheres to federal law.

In the past, lawmakers have proposed letting all students who attend Arkansas high schools use state resources to go to college — whether they are in the country legally or not.

EFFORTS TO TRACK, LIMIT

Over the summer, Little Rock based Secure Arkansas failed for a second time to collect enough signatures to put on the ballot a state constitutional amendment restricting illegal aliens’ access to public services.

Secure Arkansas’ state Director Todd Sharp said the group brought public attention to the issue and will not likely attempt another ballot initiative.

“I think we’ve served our purpose,” Sharp said. “It’s about education and we wanted to open the eyes of the citizens of Arkansas.”

The ballot initiative would have required state agencies, counties, cities and other local government to verify the lawful presence in the U.S. of any person 14 years old or older who applied for certain taxpayer funded benefits.

Government agencies would also have had to document the dollar amount of benefits provided to illegal aliens and to file annual reports with the Legislature.

Two freshmen lawmakers have said they are working with Secure Arkansas on a bill similar to the group’s ballot initiative.

Harris and Rep. Jon Hubbard, RJonesboro, said they plan to file the bill, depending on how much it would cost the state.

The limits Laws and court precedents set out specific services that states or businesses cannot deny on the basis of an individual’s legal status:

The federal Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 eliminated race-based immigration quotas and replaced them with nationality-based quotas. Congress defined types of immigration, including illegal aliens.

In 1965 the Immigration and Nationality Act was revised to end quotas based on national origin. Preference was still given to those who have U.S. relatives and for the first time Mexican immigration was restricted.

In the 1976 De Canas v. Bica case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal Immigration and Nationality Act does not prohibit a state from enforcing federal immigration law as long as the state does not “impose additional burdens not contemplated by Congress.”

The case dealt with a California law that prohibited employers from hiring people they know to be illegal aliens.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1982 case Plyler v. Doe that under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment states may not deny free public education to school-age children who are illegally in the country.

The 14th Amendment provides that “[n]o State shall… deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The court ruled that a person does not have to be a legal resident to be subject to the laws of a state.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act of 1986 passed as part of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, known as COBRA.

It requires any hospital or ambulance service that receives Medicare payments to provide care to any person needing medical treatment regardless of legal status or ability to pay for it.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 granted amnesty to illegal aliens who had been in the United States since 1982 and to certain agricultural workers. It also created sanctions for employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens, and increased U.S. border enforcement.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 increased penalties for illegal entry to the United States, smuggling of illegal workers and document fraud.

The federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 denies access by illegal aliens to many federally funded programs.

Illegal aliens in the United States are not eligible for federal public benefits, which include welfare, public housing, professional or commercial licenses, food assistance, college loans, unemployment, Medicare or other benefits typically offered to U.S. residents.

States can choose whether to provide some services at their own cost such as prenatal services to children born to mothers in the country illegally. States can also provide some federal services such as nutrition programs to a pregnant illegal alien whose child will be a U.S. citizen.

Section 411 of the act allows states to restrict access to some state and local programs, but not emergency medical help and immunizations for communicable diseases. States can also require applicants for state or local public benefits to provide proof of eligibility.

The Real ID Act of 2005 imposed federal restrictions on state driver's licenses issued to immigrants and others. State motor vehicle departments have to confirm the validity of identification documents presented by driver’s license applicants. The act also curtailed habeas corpus relief for aliens and increased immigration enforcement mechanisms.

States’ rights in regard to immigration enforcement recently gained national attention in 2010 when the federal government sued Arizona over a law requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected to be in the country illegally, while in the process of enforcing state laws. The federal government alleges the Arizona law interferes with federal immigration regulations and would create a patchwork of state and local-level immigration policies.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case in November, but has not released an opinion.

The Arizona law was passed amid frustration by some people that the federal government has not done enough to stem the number of people illegally entering the U.S.

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Supreme Court, and National Conference of State Legislatures Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Front Section, Pages 1 on 01/23/2011

Print Headline: State not tracking benefits for aliens

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