STATEMENT BY KATHLEEN BROWN ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
SPEECH TO: TOWN HALL OF CALIFORNIA LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
SEPTEMBER 29, 1993
Usually at forums such as these, I dedicate my remarks to the hidden benefits of riding the yield curve, debt ratios and bond ratings.
But I want to take this opportunity to begin to address a series of broader policy issues affecting California's future including the economy, education and violence in our communities.
Today, I will speak about immigration. First, because it is a major issue in the minds of Californians. Second, because I have been talking about it in bits and pieces over the last several months and it is time to put forth a comprehensive rather than piecemeal statement. And third, because I think it is time to bring the discussion back down to earth.
My message is two-fold: first, immigration and immigrants add immeasurable value to California and to our economy and should be celebrated as one of California's greatest assets.
Second, illegal immigration is a problem and must be addressed in a responsible and thoughtful manner.
Perhaps more than any other force, immigration -- legal and illegal -- has shaped and will continue to shape California's destiny.
Most of us are descendants of immigrants, and one of the reasons I feel strongly about this issue is the pride I feel as a fourth generation Californian.
My grandfather's father -- joseph brown -- moved to California from ireland and became a groundskeeper in golden gate park. My grandmother's father -- august shuckman -- came here from germany in the 1860s, settled in colusa county, and ran an inn on the stage coach line. They believed in what California could offer, and ended up giving back far more than was ever given to them.
And I also know first-hand about the dreams and challenges of newer immigrants -- my daughter-in-law is a first generation filipino-american whose father came to this country to work on the railroads.
So I have a personal understanding of the lure of this state -- and a determination to build on the dreams of every immigrant.
But I also know we can't pretend that illegal immigration isn't a problem. In the past decade, the number of illegal immigrants in California has doubled, to 2.1 million, equivalent to the population of arkansas.
The increasing numbers of illegal immigrants has, quite properly, raised a growing number of public policy debates touching on issues like jobs, taxes, education, and crime, to name a few.
Unfortunately, as the issue of illegal immigration has gained in prominence, it has also gained in virulence. Explosive issues of race, class, employment, and power have all been raised, some with merit, some without, some rationally, and some not.
For many years, it was impossible to have a common sense debate about illegal immigration. Anyone who brought it up was immediately branded a racist or kook. Today, it seems we have a different problem: the only way to be heard on this issue is to unveil a new idea that is more punitive than the last one.
I gave a great deal of thought to whether another statement at this point in the debate would do more harm than good. Has the dialogue become so overheated that no proposal can receive attention unless it is more extreme than all the previous ones? Have we reached the point where discussion of the illegal immigration issue has become nothing more than an arms race for ambitious politicians?
I finally concluded that the most valuable contribution I can make is to try to move the debate from one-upmanship to problem solving. It is no longer acceptable -- if it ever was -- to throw extreme or impractical proposals on the table just to make those who disagree look soft.
What I bring today are not just ideas, but also specific steps to implement them. I have new proposals, but they are grounded in common sense, not news sense.
Given the power of immigration to shape the future of this state, it is time to set forward three principles that should guide and ground thoughtful policy: common sense, fairness, and responsibility.
Common sense says go to the core of the illegal immigration problem instead of tinkering at the politically charged margins. Common sense says focus on the real reason illegal immigrants come to this country -- jobs. And common sense says focus on solutions that have a real chance of being implemented -- not unconstitutional approaches that would take years to get resolved.
Fairness says that we must go out of our way to prevent an ugly backlash against immigrants that would be both dangerous and shameful.
I am mindful that earlier this century, fear of foreigners resulted in thousands of japanese-americans being stripped of all their belongings and sent to internmet camps. And a year later, that same fear led american servicemen to attack mexican-americans in the streets of los angeles.
That is why I am deeply concerned about the rise in hate crimes committed against foreigners and those perceived to be foreigners, and I want to be unequivocal on this point: immigrants are among California's greatest strengths. Those who commit hate crimes against them should be punished to the full extent of the law.
This country was built by immigrants, and there is no difference between a first generation american and a fifth generation american.
Finally, my third principle: responsibility. Fiscal responsibility says that we must avoid solutions with small, short range savings but large, long-term costs.
Corporate responsibility says businesses must comply with the law, and government must make it painful for those who don't.
And perhaps most important, personal responsibility says that we must target people who violate the laws, not innocent children who know nothing of borders or documents.
Should a small bleeding child be turned away from an emergency room because of who his or her parents are?
I believe a fundamental measure of a civilized society is how it treats children and the elderly. Visiting the crimes of an adult upon a child is barbaric, and proposals that do so are based on the coldest and most cynical political calculations.
Guided by the principles of common sense, fairness, and responsibility, I see three key elements to an effective plan.
First, address the real reason illegal immigrants come here, by cutting off their access to jobs.
Second, do a better job of closing off the routes used by illegal immigrants to enter the country.
And third, take all rational steps to reduce the economic costs of illegal immigration.
I believe the single most important step we can take to reduce illegal immigration is to make it impossible for illegal aliens to get a job in this country. The prospect of
employment is what brings people here. The knowledge that employment laws are easy to get around is what brings them here illegally. That's what we've got to stop.
I recently read about one undocumented immigrant woman who slipped into California four years ago. She said she had worked for 40 garment sewing shops in los angeles.
More than three-quarters of the time, employers ignored the law and never asked for papers verifying her identity and right to work in the united states. And this is no isolated case: according to ins officials, about 80 percent of employers in construction and garment manufacturing in los angeles and orange county break immigration regulations.
It's painfully clear from what i've just described that it's time we take the following specific steps:
First, we must increase penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
Under current federal law, penalties for knowingly hiring undocumented workers are as low as $250. Even a third offense can receive a fine as low as $3,000. These fines must be much higher -- $1,000 for the first offense, $5,000 for a second offense, and $10,000 for a third offense.
I would prefer that the state of California impose these fines, but federal law prohibits us from doing so. Today I am writing to attorney general janet reno and our
congressional delegation to ask for their help in obtaining a waiver from this law.
Second, it is unreasonable to impose additional fines on businesses unless we make it possible for them to identify accurately who is legally eligible for work, and who is not.
That is why, at a congressional hearing several weeks ago, I proposed the creation of a tamper-proof social security card that every employer must ask of every employee before they are hired. I have tried to tailor my plan so it is easy for small businesses to handle -- I want to make it as easy for an employer to check a job applicant's residency status as it is for a grocery clerk to approve a customer's check.
A number of concerns have been raised about such a card.
First, some say a social security card would spur discrimination because only people perceived to be foreigners would be asked to show their cards. I share that concern.
So I am proposing that federal law require every employer to ask every employee -- both new and existing -- for their card. New employees would have to show their cards when they fill out their w-4 form. Existing employees would show their new cards when the social security administration first distributes them.
To make the law enforceable without thousands of new inspectors, I would require employers to submit copies of the cards to the irs along with each employee's w-2 form as proof of compliance. Failure to provide this documentation would be punished by a fine of $1,000 per incident, and the employer's name would be turned over to the ins for investigation of possible immigration law violations and further penalties.
The second concern raised is cost. The social security administration estimates it would cost between $8 and $10 per person to give every eligible citizen a tamper-proof card. California's experience with tamper-proof driver's licenses suggests the costs could even be lower -- the dmv estimates that our new licenses, which have a photo and fingerprint cost $7.40 each.
I propose that cardholders pay the cost of their own cards. It is a minimal amount, and the benefits of the card to each taxpayer will clearly outweigh this small cost.
The third concern is effectiveness. The card is only as reliable as the underlying documents. If the documents used to obtain the card are falsified, then the card itself will have accomplished nothing.
But in fact, tamper-proof cards will address the biggest source of the problem: eighty-eight percent of fake cards are completely counterfeit, churned out on unauthorized presses without the knowledge of the social security administration. A tamper-proof card would put an end to that crime.
I have one final proposal to address the employment issue. One of the reasons hiring illegal immigrants is attractive to unscrupulous employers is because employers know they can pay below minimum wage, and violate child labor and occupational safety standards without worrying the employees will complain.
There are 858,000 employers in California, but do you know how many federal labor inspectors there are?
There are even fewer full time state field inspectors -- seventeen. As a result, there is little chance violators will be caught. And, in the unlikely event they are caught, state fines for violating the minimum wage are as low as $50.
So I propose hiring an additional 500 state and federal inspectors for California, to be financed through the enhanced employer fines and a source I will discuss shortly.
And, I propose increasing state fines for violations to a minimum of $1,000 per incident. Taking these steps will substantially reduce the economic incentives to hire illegal aliens.
Let me now turn to a new point. Along with making it nearly impossible for illegal immigrants to get a job in this country, we must make it nearly impossible for them to cross the border. The only way to do that is with tighter enforcement and increased personnel. This is not complicated; it's simply a matter of finding the resources.
I look to two sources.
First, I endorse senator dianne feinstein's proposal to charge a $1 toll to all people crossig our borders from mexico and canada. This will raise over $400 million a year to fight illegal immigration.
I am writing to the senator today to suggest two additions. First, in order not to overburden people who cross the borders on a daily basis, we should have monthly or annual passes that are available for lower cost. Second, I am asking that a portion of the money raised from the fee be allocated to hire the department of labor inspectors I mentioned earlier.
The second step we need to take to enforce the borders is to use our military troops for limited backup of the i.N.S. By expanding already-existing cooperative efforts between the defense department and the border patrol.
Let me be clear about this point.
I am not proposing militarizing our border, or treating mexico or canada as enemies, or sending armed troops out to arrest illegal aliens. Military troops cannot and would not be used for arrests, or search or seizure.
What I am suggesting is treating military troops as an underutilized taxpayer financed resource that can be put to better use.
Specifically, we should allow troops to operate in cooperation with the ins, where they can be used for backup purposes including logistical support, communications, transportation, mechanical repairs, and operating equipment.
This is not a new role for the military. Under "operation alliance," the military already provides backup assistance to the border patrol and other government agencies involved in drug interdiction. My proposal would expand its role to include illegal immigration.
This will free up ins personnel to tackle enforcement operations. This is just good common sense, and an efficient way to beef up the border patrol with minimal new costs.
Along with removing the enticement of jobs, and strengthening our border patrol, there is a third objective we must pursue, and that is to limit the services used -- and the costs generated -- by illegal immigrants.
Once again, I am guided by the principles of common sense, fairness, and responsibility.
Those principles, plus simple human decency, are why I oppose governor wilson's proposal to deny emergency health services to illegal immigrants. We cannot have people dying on the sidewalk in front of our hospitals. It is shortsighted to allow people with contagious diseases like tuberculosis to spread their illnesses to the rest of the population.
And it is both fiscally and morally irresponsible to deny prenatal care to pregnant mothers when the costs of future, preventable ailments will be many times higher.
The principles of common sense, fairness, and responsibility are why I also oppose the governor's proposal to deny education to the children of illegal immigrants. In the first place, the supreme court has ruled that doing so would be unconstitutional, and changing that will take years, if not longer. Second, schools should devote their scarce resources to education, not to the nearly impossible task of determining the residency status of their students.
And most important, it should be obvious that if we deny schooling to children -- any children -- we contribute to a cycle of illiteracy, hopelessness, drugs, and crime, thereby costing us far more than we will ever save.
The principles of common sense, fairness, and responsibility are also why two months ago I wrote to president clinton suggesting that he initiate a new federal policy that says: every time we negotiate an agreement or treaty with another country, we will add a provision requiring the other country to take back and jail its citizens who have been convicted of crimes in the U.S. Right now, we have 14,00 illegal aliens in California prisons, and another 10,000 - 15,000 in county jails. It costs the state's taxpayers over $500 million a year to keep them imprisoned, and because the prisons and jails are so overcrowded, we're having to release criminals before they've served their full sentences.
We should use the leverage we have during treaty negotiations to force other countries to take back their criminal illegal aliens, with guarantees they will serve the time they're supposed to.
I see one other lever that should be used to encourage foreign countries to take back and imprison their nationals who commit crimes here: U.S. Foreign aid. Several of the countries that are home to significant numbers of illegal alien convicts are also recipients of U.S. Foreign aid.
As long as these countries refuse to take back and imprison their nationals, I propose that we deduct the costs of incarceration from their foreign aid allotment, and allocate the money to the states that now bear the costs. For California, that would amount to $47 million a year.
There are several other steps that can be taken to reduce the costs of illegal immigrants to California taxpayers. Governor wilson is now considering two bills that would require people to show proof of legal residency before they can use state job referral agencies and touhen penalties for medi-cal fraud. I urge the governor to sign those bills. Finally, I echo the calls of many other California elected officials in demanding the federal government reimburse California for the full costs of federal immigration policies and policy failures.
I've talked a lot about details today; let me conclude by returning to the larger picture.
Sometimes in america, important issues can be lost in a sea of rhetoric and conflict. Too many politicians look to divide for political gain; too many reporters look to
sensationalize; too many citizens look to blame others for their problems. Illegal immigration need not be one of these issues.
We live in times when many of our people are scared. They're scared of losing their jobs; they're scared of losing their health care; they're scared their children can't get a decent education; and they're scared about their personal safety. Illegal immigration is wrongly seen as a cause.
When faced with such widespread fears, elected leaders have three choices: we can ignore the problem and hope it goes away, we can exploit those feelings for political gain, or we can try to lead the way to solutions.
The first two options cannot work; it's time to try the third. We've had enough meanness and hostility; let's get on with solving the problem.
The problems of illegal immigration may strain our patience. But when some exploit that frustration and anger, we must answer with policies drawn from our roots. California's immigrants built -- and continue to build -- this state with common sense, fairness, and responsibility. Those fundamentals should guide our approach to the challenge of illegal immigration.
I thank you very much.
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