California Forum

Why downplay costs of illegal immigration if California is so sure of the benefits?

Hundreds of people without legal status line up inside the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Stanton, Calif., for an opportunity to get their driver's licenses on Jan. 2, 2015.
Hundreds of people without legal status line up inside the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Stanton, Calif., for an opportunity to get their driver's licenses on Jan. 2, 2015. TNS

California enjoys priding itself on its open-mindedness with regard to illegal immigration. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown attended an event with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. There, according to The Los Angeles Times, Brown “nodded to the immigrants in the room, saying it didn’t matter if they had permission to be in the United States.” Brown added, “You’re all welcome in California today.”

And so it has been. California considers itself a sanctuary state – a state in which law enforcement officials refuse to work with federal authorities to capture and deport illegal immigrants. The logic, supposedly, is that illegal immigrants will be more likely to work with local law enforcement if they aren’t fearful of federal intervention, and that illegal immigrants come to California to work. The true logic is somewhat more cynical: Democrats in the state of California believe that they can win Latino votes by pandering on the issue of illegal immigration.

Now, there are hundreds of thousands of wonderful people living in California who came to the United States illegally. But it’s willfully blind to pretend that California hasn’t borne inordinate costs of illegal immigration thanks to Democratic political pandering.

The only way to avoid that conclusion is to prevent the public from learning about the costs of illegal immigration. Sadly, such data is difficult to obtain.

Here’s what we do know. Approximately one in five federal inmates are illegally in the country. According to the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform, using data gathered from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, 12.9 percent of all state and local prisoners in California were illegal immigrants as of 2009. That number is significantly higher than illegal immigrants as percentage of the population. Furthermore, according to FAIR, illegal immigration costs the state of California some $23 billion per year.

The state’s burgeoning homelessness crisis hasn’t been aided by additional illegal immigration, either. In mid-2017, The Los Angeles Times reported that Latino homelessness had risen 63 percent over the prior year in Los Angeles County – and a significant percentage of those homeless were illegally in the country.

We also know that illegal immigration has come with serious costs in terms of gang violence. MS-13 is not a myth; there are some 10,000 members in the United States, and last May, 21 members of the gang were arrested in Los Angeles, more than half illegal immigrants. From 2005-2007, ICE made thousands of arrests of MS-13 members in our state. The 18th Street Gang counts somewhere from 30,000 to 50,000 members in the United States; again, a significant percentage of that population is in the country illegally.

This is not meant to suggest that illegal immigrants are a criminal threat on a broad level. It is meant to suggest that it is deeply irresponsible for California to refuse to cooperate with the federal authorities or to downplay data that could save lives.

The state of California obviously has the right to refuse to act as agents of the federal government for immigration purposes. But it seems that Democrats in California are eager to move even beyond that strategy: Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf allegedly warned illegal immigrants of an impending ICE raid in February, an open attempt to aid and abet illegal immigration itself.

This may help Democrats win elections, but it’s awful policy. What’s worse, it puts California taxpayers on the hook for costs, both criminal and civil – and it leaves voters without the proper information to make judgments on the efficacy of policy.

That’s inexcusable. If Democrats are going to claim that illegal immigration is an unalloyed good, at the very least they must provide us the data to show it is. Otherwise, they’re simply lying by omission in order to manipulate voters.

Ben Shapiro is a Los Angeles-based political columnist and editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, a conservative news and opinion website. He can be reached at @BenShapiro.