Posted on July 23, 2004

Will Landmark Suit Force Immigration Reform?

Matt Hayes,, Friday, Jul. 23

In a series of sweeps in southern California over the course of a few weeks in June, a dozen agents of the Border Patrol arrested more than 420 illegal aliens and placed them in deportation proceedings.

Americans enthusiastically supported the sweeps, as any public opinion poll would have predicted, but Rep. Joe Baca (search), D-Calif., and Mexican President Vicente Fox (search) were outraged.

At a Chicago rally for Mexicans living in the United States — now about 10 percent of his nation’s entire population — Fox promised that his government would not permit violations of the human and labor rights of Mexicans living in the United States. “We will stand beside every Mexican woman and man in this country,” Fox told the crowd. “We will defend them against the raids being carried out in the state of California.”

Baca, a member of the Hispanic caucus, said in a press release, “I am doing everything I can to make sure that sweeps like the ones last week do not happen again. I will not stop until this situation has been resolved.”

During a June 25 meeting with Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson (search), Baca and other members of the Hispanic caucus accused the Border Patrol agents of racial profiling.

In response to the charges, Hutchinson’s office appeared to collapse. Describing the Border Patrol officers involved in the sweeps as a renegade unit that had taken it upon itself to enforce the law without having first obtained the permission of officials in Washington, the DHS, in an all-too-familiar pattern, ordered the sweeps halted.

The cease and desist order, in turn, outraged southern Californians, most notably the hosts of the influential Los Angeles talk radio program, the John and Ken Show (search) on KFI.

After days of being harshly criticized by the program for his decision to end the sweeps, Hutchinson agreed to appear on the show.

He probably regrets that decision now.

Host John blasted Hutchinson, repeatedly demanding that the undersecretary say publicly whether the DHS was going to continue the raids or not. When Hutchinson refused to say, the show’s hosts went ballistic.

Hutchinson was obviously angered by the treatment he received on the John and Ken Show, but Hutchinson and the rest of the administration should remember one thing: The radio show was precisely articulating a feeling of frustration and anger that is shared with the majority of the American people.

The feeling of anger at having our immigration laws ignored by politicians in Washington and frustration at the feeling of having no place to turn is especially acute in California — home to roughly half of the nation’s population of foreign nationals residing in the United States in defiance of the laws of the American people.

The local frustration at the status quo makes Los Angeles an especially interesting location for a groundbreaking lawsuit two Los Angeles County taxpayers filed recently in the California Superior Court, Los Angeles.

The suit, Anderson v. Los Angeles County Department of Health (LADHS), is asking the court to order the county’s public health system to seek reimbursement for services provided at taxpayer expense to the sponsors of legal immigrants who access the health care system.

In keeping with a centuries-old American tradition to prevent social welfare systems from serving as magnets to immigrants, federal law requires many legal immigrants to have a U.S. sponsor in order to receive admittance to the United States. The sponsor must sign an “affidavit of support,” which is a legally binding contract obligating the sponsor to reimburse public entities for any means-tested public benefit the immigrant may access.

The Superior Court suit cites a federal law that requires public service providers to seek reimbursement from a sponsor when an immigrant he or she has sponsored uses certain taxpayer-supported services.

LACDHS provides services to thousands of immigrants at public expense every year, but has never once sought reimbursement from the immigrants’ sponsors as required by federal law. Instead, the LACDHS shift the burden onto county taxpayers.

The county’s refusal to obey federal immigration law is a perfect example of why Americans are as angry as the hosts of the John and Ken Show.

Remarkably, the county intends to fight the taxpayers in the lawsuit.

As the plaintiffs’ attorney, James Bame of Los Angeles put it, “It’s really amazing that the county, while shutting down clinics meant to help Americans in need, would rather spend taxpayer money to defend an illegal practice that is costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year rather than do what my clients are requesting: simply send a bill to the people who have already agreed to pay it.”

Justice William Rehnquist once said, “Somewhere out there, beyond the walls of the courthouse, run currents and tides of public opinion, which lap at the courtroom door.”

Given public opinion in southern California, we’re fast approaching the point at which the tide is not going to be lapping at the courtroom door; we’re looking at a tsunami of public outrage washing away the whole rotten mess.