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thedrifter
01-07-07, 10:41 AM
Report: 40 percent of county's Medi-Cal births to illegal immigrants

By: WILLIAM FINN BENNETT - Staff Writer

NORTH COUNTY ---- A state report quietly released last spring shows illegal immigrants made up the largest single group of those giving birth at taxpayer expense in the state and in San Diego County in 2004.

The May report, "Medi-Cal Funded Deliveries," states that of the 14,350 taxpayer-funded births in the county that year, 5,814, or 40.5 percent, were to illegal immigrants. That is an 18 percent increase over the 4,916 Medi-Cal-funded deliveries to illegal immigrants in San Diego County in 2001, as shown in an earlier state report.

On Friday morning, Vista resident Silvia stopped to talk with a visitor as she headed into the Vista Community Clinic with her 1-year-old son in her arms and her 4-year-old son in tow. The 24-year-old woman said in Spanish that she is an illegal immigrant and has lived in the United States for 10 years. She spoke on the condition that her last name not be published.

Silvia, a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, said Medi-Cal paid labor and delivery costs for both of her children, and added that she is frustrated that now she has to pay for their medical care and that she expected Friday's doctor visit to cost her $35.

"I think they should pay," said the woman who earns $11 an hour at a local factory but receives no health benefits. "I buy things, I pay taxes."

A few minutes later, a woman named Maria was leaving the clinic with her 6-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter. The 27-year-old native of San Luis, Mexico, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she is a single mom who struggles to survive by cleaning houses. She said she has lived in the U.S. for 13 years and is an illegal immigrant. Medi-Cal paid the delivery costs for her children, Maria said, adding that she is grateful for the help.

"I think I should pay, but I can't," said Maria, as she waited at the bus stop.

Statewide in 2004, providers delivered 248,086 babies at taxpayers' expense, according to the report. Of those, 105,665, or 42.6 percent, were to illegal immigrants. That's a 13.5 percent increase over the 93,094 Medi-Cal-funded deliveries to illegal immigrants in the state in 2001, as shown in the earlier report.

At an average cost of $3,224 each for 74,835 vaginal deliveries and $5,153 each for 30,830 Cesarean deliveries in 2004, the total cost to taxpayers ran more than $400 million. Of that total, about $22 million was for births in San Diego County.

The amounts included doctors' fees and, in many cases, pre- and postnatal care.

Despite the cost, a local doctor says the money is a necessary investment.

Bernard Wosk, a physician at the nonprofit Vista Community Clinic, immigrated to the U.S. from his native Nicaragua 20 years ago. He said he has prenatal patients who are illegal immigrants.

Wosk said he understands that laws are necessary to stop illegal immigration.

"But the point is they are already here and if you are talking about taxpayer money, it has been proven that the more you spend on prenatal care, the more you save in the mid- and long-term," Wosk said. "Moneywise, it makes sense and humanitarianwise, you can't turn your back on a newborn."

San Diego County's 5,814 births to illegal immigrants in 2004 placed it third in the rankings of the 58 counties in the state. Topping the list was Los Angeles County, with 41,240, followed by Orange County, with 10,979 births to illegal immigrant mothers.

'Birthright citizenship'

According to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."

But the U.S. Supreme Court has never categorically ruled that children of illegal immigrants are entitled to so-called birthright citizenship.

Over the years, Congressman Brian Bilbray, who previously represented the 49th Congressional District and now represents the 50th District, has co-sponsored several bills that aimed to end "birthright citizenship" to children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrant parents. None of the bills passed. Most recently, Bilbray co-sponsored HR 698, the Citizenship Reform Act of 2005, which died before Congress could discuss it.

In an interview Wednesday from Washington, Bilbray said he is planning to introduce the bill in the current legislative year.

"This is an absolutely absurd situation that no reasonable nation should allow to continue," Bilbray said. "The federal government is the biggest deadbeat dad in the country because they have walked away from this baby that is their responsibility."

Asked what he thinks should be done when an illegal immigrant woman walks into an emergency room and is ready to deliver a baby and has no money, Bilbray said, "At least you don't write a welfare check for her after she delivers.

"They not only get free birth, they get aid for dependent children," he said. "When you start giving one benefit based on someone breaking the law, it leads to another benefit, then another benefit."

Bilbray said that many of the illegal immigrants who are recent arrivals to the United States have a much higher rate of complications when giving birth because of poor nutrition.

"Some of those births turn out to be extremely expensive," he said.

Opponents vow to fight

Opponents to legislation that would remove the right to automatic birthright citizenship say that such a law would face constitutional challenges. They say the only way birthright citizenship will ever end would be through the approval of another constitutional amendment.

And that is a much higher hurdle. A constitutional amendment can be made if requested by two-thirds of both houses of Congress or by the legislatures of two-thirds of the states. Then, the legislatures in three-fourths of the states would have to ratify such an amendment for it to become part of the U.S. Constitution.

A spokesman for the San Diego-based, human-rights organization American Friends Service Committee said Wednesday it's easy to condemn illegal immigrants when looking at only one part of the picture.

For example, many illegal immigrants use Social Security numbers that are made up or that belong to others.

Money deducted from wages for Social Security is money the illegal immigrants will never see again, said Pedro Rios, San Diego office director for the Quaker organization.

Illegal immigrants also pay sales tax every time they go to the store and other federal and state taxes every time they buy gasoline, he said.

"These are all things that aren't being looked at," Rios said.

Like Vista Community Clinic doctor Wosk, Rios said that paying for pre- and postnatal care and delivery costs saves the taxpayers more money because it makes for safer, less-expensive deliveries and healthier babies and mothers, who are less likely to be a taxpayer burden further down the road.

Bilbray said that such an argument simply shows that illegal immigrants are holding society hostage.

"It ends up being an extortion game," he said.

"Illegal immigrants are telling taxpayers, 'Either you pay for us now or pay us more much later,' " Bilbray said.

Contact staff writer William Finn Bennett at (760) 740-5426 or wbennett@nctimes.com.

Ellie