June 1999, Volume 6, Number 6
California: 187, Welfare, Chinese Students
California Governor Gray Davis asked the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to mediate the legal issues to be resolved with Proposition 187. Davis said that, regardless of the outcome of mediation, he would not implement a key provision of Proposition 187, the one that would deny illegal immigrant children access to California public schools.
The 1982 Plyler v Doe US Supreme Court decision declared that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment protects everyone within a state's borders, regardless of their immigration status. The court ruled 5-4 that "equal protection" for illegal alien children included the same education available to US-citizen and legal immigrant children. The majority emphasized that education is especially needed to prevent the development of an underclass; the minority argued that the lower courts were making social policy when they provided K-12 education for unauthorized children.
Representatives of Governor Davis are negotiating with several civil rights and immigrant advocate groups that sued to block implementation of 187 after it was approved by 59 to 41 percent by California voters in November 1994. The mediation process is intended to determine what parts of Proposition 187, if any, should be appealed, implemented or dropped.
President Ernesto Zedillo visited California on May 18-19, 1999, symbolizing the new relationship between the governor of California and the Mexican president. Zedillo was the first Mexican president to address the California Legislature, and has supported Davis's plan to mediate Prop 187. For more information: http://www.latimes.com/zedillo
Interviews conducted by the Los Angeles Times revealed that many Latinos blame the PRI for the conditions that forced them to emigrate. One said: "None of the Mexican presidents have done a thing to improve that country's economy and he [Zedillol] is no different." Another said Zedillo's visit is like welcoming a relative who has not been seen for a long time. Zedillo addressed Mexicans in the state: "I have come to California to reassure the Mexican-origin population and all inhabitants of California that in Mexico we are working very hard to build a future of progress and justice." Zedillo said that Mexico has increased social spending from six percent of gross domestic product to nine percent in the past five years.
Welfare. In May 1999, the INS announced that legal immigrants who obtain public housing, food stamps and health insurance for their children will not have family members they sponsor for immigration be barred for fear that they will become "public charges" in the US. Advocates were concerned that only about one-third of the 328,000 uninsured children eligible for Healthy Families subsidized health insurance signed up; 75 percent of the uninsured children are Hispanic. One estimate is that 90 percent of the California children eligible for Healthy Families are US citizens; half of them have parents who are not US citizens. Immigrants who arrived after August 22, 1996 are not eligible.
The US Supreme Court in May 1999 ruled 7-2 that a California plan to pay welfare recipients the benefits they would have received in the place from which they recently moved was unconstitutional. The two-tiered plan, which aimed to save $11 million in an annual $3 billion welfare budget, was adopted in 1992 but never implemented.
The 1996 federal welfare reform law permitted states to pay lower benefits to newcomers who applied for welfare in their first year of residence; 15 states implemented such two-tiered benefit laws. With this decision, the US Supreme Court has declared them to be an unconstitutional restriction on the right to travel: "Citizens of the United States, whether rich or poor, have the right to choose to be citizens 'of the State wherein they reside.' The states, however, do not have any right to select their citizens." The decision was based on the 14th Amendment, which provides, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." For more information: Saenz v. Roe, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&navby=year&year=199).
In 1969, a US Supreme Court decision held that states may not require residents, for example, to live in the state for one year before becoming eligible for welfare benefits.
The immigrant share of the California labor force rose from 29 to 36 percent between 1989 and 1997; half of the immigrant workers had earnings in the lower third of the earnings distribution. Over 40 percent of male immigrants in the work force had less than a high school diploma compared to seven percent of native male workers.
Studies of former welfare recipients conclude that 61 to 87 percent were working when they were surveyed after leaving the rolls. The General Accounting Office released a 17-state assessment of ex-recipients on May 27, 1999 that concluded that many of the jobs ex-recipients were low paying, offering hourly wages of $5.67 in Tennessee to $8.09 in Washington for more than 32 hours a week--Rand calculates that full-time jobs must pay at least $8.36 an hour to provide the income equivalent to welfare plus Food Stamps in California.
These data have enabled both sides of the welfare reform debate to make points. Those who oppose the 1996 legislation note that many ex-recipients find unstable jobs that do not provide fringe benefits, helping to explain why the number of US residents without health insurance rose from 38 million in 1992 to 43 million in 1997. Large companies that offer health insurance and other benefits to professionals also tend to offer better benefits to unskilled workers. Those in favor of the reforms note that the percentage of US residents who are employed has risen to its highest-ever levels, and that most ex-recipients disagreed in surveys with the statement "Life was better when you were on welfare."
MediCal. MediCal is the largest "welfare" program in California; some $18.5 billion was spent in 1998 so that 130,000 medical providers could serve five million poor residents. Illegal immigrants are generally not eligible for services; legal immigrants are.
In 1994, then-California Governor Pete Wilson stationed fraud investigators at ports of entry who demanded that returning immigrants repay state health insurance benefits they had received under the MediCal program. The fraud deterrence program was discontinued in April 1999, after a state audit found widespread abuses. The state plans to return almost $4 million to thousands of immigrants who can establish that they were forced to repay MediCal benefits.
Many legal immigrants claim they were threatened with deportation if they did not agree to reimburse the state government, even though they or their children qualified on the basis of income and assets for benefits. State auditors found that in 72 percent of the cases examined, the children who received MediCal were eligible for benefits.
The audit report describes how INS agents, using profiles developed by California investigators, directed travelers to nearby offices where state fraud investigators interviewed them, seeking evidence of illegal receipt of MediCal benefits, particularly for childbirth. About 13,000 mostly Latino travelers were interviewed a month. In one case, a recipient was told to repay $33,000, even though the person had received only $3,200 worth of benefits. The audit found that state investigators attempted to influence INS decisions over who was eligible to enter and remain in the United States.
The program had continued despite a federal directive in 1998 saying that the practice was an invasion of privacy and, without some evidence of benefits fraud, probably illegal. The audit report, entitled "Department of Health Services: Use of Its Port of Entry Fraud Detection Programs Is No Longer Justified" is available at: http://www.bsa.ca.gov/bsa/98026sum.html
Governor Gray Davis is under pressure from Latino activists to undo more Wilson-era policies, including dropping an appeal of a case in which a state judge said that California must continue to provide prenatal care to about 70,000 poor unauthorized women each year. Some activists are asking that Davis modify Department of Motor Vehicle regulations that currently require residents to prove they are legal residents before they can get driver's licenses. Latino activists would also like Davis to exempt students with limited English from a statewide assessment test that is given only in English.
Chinese Student Visas. In January, 1999 32 youths from Shanghai went to Los Angeles for a one-month English study program, for which their parents paid a Chinese-American woman $19,000 each. The students were enrolled in a standard English-language program.
At the end of a month, the students were taken by the program to Los Angeles International Airport for their return. However, at the airport, the students were taken away by Asian men in vans, causing program administrators to call police to investigate the apparent kidnapping. The parents were unconcerned, and two days later, the students were found living with host-families and enrolled in a second English-language program.
The US government called the Chinese-American woman a smuggler, and the extension of stay of the 32 teens "an alien-smuggling conspiracy." The teens, from elite Shanghai families, were told by the Chinese-American woman that F-1 student visas can be renewed indefinitely as long as the student made satisfactory progress in a course of study and that foreign students can sometimes find ways to remain in the US, such as through marriage or by finding a US employer to sponsor them.
The US Department of State issues about 13,000 student visas to China a year. It estimates 90 percent of the Chinese students find a way to stay in the US. Total enrollment in the intensive-English programs of the kind that the 32 Shanghai teens participated in was 54,052 in 1997. About 80 percent of the foreign students in the US hold F-1 student visas and 10 percent hold J-1 exchange visitor programs. After completing a US course of study with an F-1 visa, foreign students are eligible for 12 months of practical training--students can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) without a US job offer.
A record 481,280 foreign students were enrolled in US universities in 1997-98. The four universities with the most foreign students-- New York University, Boston University, Columbia University and the University of Southern California -- each enrolled more than 4,000. Undergraduates outnumbered graduate students by a slight margin, 46 percent to 43 percent. About 58 percent of foreign students were men. There were 65,000 foreign students in California; 51,000 in New York; 30,000 in Massachusetts; and, 27,000 in Florida.
The American Bar Association in May 1999 called for tighter restriction of eligibility to practice law in the US, asking the chief justices of state supreme courts and the boards of bar examiners to require more legal education of foreign-trained lawyers before they are permitted to take bar exams. Some 217 US law schools have masters of law (LLM) programs, which typically cost $20,000 for one year of study in a specialized field of law such as taxation; 12 states permit lawyers trained abroad to sit for the bar exam if they have an LL.M. or the equivalent of one year of study at an approved US law school.
On the basis of foreign-student enrollments, the Department of Commerce estimates that US higher education is now the country's fifth-largest service-sector "export;" their economic impact is estimated to be $7.5 billion a year.
Some 800 Department of State employees in 230 consulates issue visas to foreigners to immigrate or to visit the US--some 413,000 immigrant and 5.9 million nonimmigrant visas were issued in 1997. Another 100,000 immigrant and 1.4 million nonimmigrant visa applications were refused. Among the foreign posts where DOS most commonly found visa fraud were Mexico City, Kingston, Port-au-Prince, Santo Domingo and Panama City. The countries the greatest number of visas were issued in 1997 were South Korea, 619,011; Brazil, 575,041; Mexico, 548,716; Taiwan, 344,901; and China, 250,503.
Judith Havemann, "Most Adults Find Jobs After Leaving Welfare," Washington Post, May 27, 1999. Dave Lesher and Mary Beth Sheridan, " Zedillo Calls for New Era of Understanding," Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1999. Linda Greenhouse, "Justices Bar Two-Tiered Welfare," New York Times, May 18, 1999. Patrick J. McDonnell, "Program initiated by Wilson had focused on getting Latina immigrants to repay benefits," Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1999. Maggie Farley, "Shanghi Youths Test Welcome Mat in US," Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1999. Denny Walsh, "Valley grower guilty: Admits farm used illegal workers," Sacramento Bee, April 30, 1999.