Idaho has joined the ranks of states looking at legislation to limit government benefits and services for illegal immigrants.
The Idaho Association of Counties is working on a bill for next year’s legislative session that would allow county governments to reject applications for indigent medical care or reimbursement when they are made by undocumented immigrants.
The cost of caring for those who are in Idaho illegally was among many issues raised at a Wednesday night forum at Boise State University, a sometimes heated discussion on immigration.
Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez, sponsor of the resolution that is the basis for the proposed bill, said state legislation is needed because the federal government has not limited undocumented residents’ access to social services. “The cost of services to illegal immigrants has burdened the taxpayers,” he said.
But Adan Ramirez, an Idaho Community Action Network board member who also spoke at the forum, said Idaho’s indigent fund is the problem, not undocumented residents.
“The indigent fund isn’t working for locals or anybody,” Ramirez said. “There’s not enough funds. We need to give people livable wages so they can pay for insurance.”
While Idaho’s effort is limited to indigent medical care, Arizona voters passed a sweeping measure on Nov. 2 that requires people to produce proof of immigration status when applying for certain government services and when registering to vote. California, Colorado and Georgia are considering similar measures.
Three Idaho legislators said they would support an initiative to limit indigent services to undocumented immigrants.
“The argument is how we are going to spend our money,” Rep. Bill Deal Sr., R-Nampa, said.
Deal said residents are complaining about high property taxes, and lawmakers have to decide whether to increase taxes to pay for indigent care or spend funds on schools.
Rep. Dolores Crow, R-Nampa, also said she would support the proposal.
But other legislators said they would like to know the costs first.
Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, said she’s concerned that removing a safety net for illegal residents would shift costs to doctors and hospitals, who would in turn raise rates on U.S. citizens who use medical services. Still, she said she wants to study the issues further.
Speakers at Wednesday’s forum, sponsored by the BSU Cultural Center, also talked about the costs of illegal immigration and the need for more information. The proposed bill would apply to all immigrants, not just Hispanics, Vasquez said.
Eighteen Idaho counties reported that taxpayers paid $1.1 million for incarceration and medical care to inmates who were illegal immigrants and about $311,000 for health, welfare and indigent services from March to September this year.