Los Angeles Times

Sunday, November 2, 1997

Illegal Immigrants Remain a Concern Despite Economy
By DARYL KELLEY, Times Staff Writer

Even in these heady times of a boom economy, Ventura County residents resent illegal immigrants, see them as a drain on public coffers and want to deny their children U.S. citizenship.
     Nearly two of every three respondents to a new Los Angeles Times Poll say illegal immigrants are a serious problem in this county.
     About half are so concerned about the impact of illegal immigrants that they would deny them health, housing and welfare benefits. And nearly half would ban their children from public schools.
     All are restrictions consistent with Proposition 187, passed by California voters in 1994.
     "Anti-immigrant feeling has not abated even though we are out of the recession," said Susan Pinkus, director of The Times Poll. "Statewide propositions attacking illegal immigration and affirmative action have kept it at a high level. And now we have the English-only initiative for schools that will probably be on the June ballot.
     "These are gut issues," Pinkus added. "People do not want to reward illegal immigrants with government services, especially when they are taking away from people who deserve those benefits."
     In conducting its survey, The Times Poll interviewed 1,286 adults in the county between Sept. 20 and 23. The margin of sample error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
     The poll--the most extensive so far of political attitudes here--found that Ventura County residents clearly distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants--and view legal immigrants more positively than do residents in the state overall.
     But many local residents also think that immigrants, legal or not, take more from the economy than they give back.
     And more than one in every four say they have seen anti-immigrant "white flight" up close, since they personally know someone who has moved to another neighborhood because immigrant families were moving in.
     "I'm really upset about this, and I'm thinking about moving," said Tom Marlett, 31, a tow-truck driver who sees his east Ventura neighborhood as increasingly overrun with immigrants. "And I've got a friend who's probably moving in 30 days, because it's all over where he lives in El Rio. It's so dirty and filthy."
     Nearly half of poll respondents, 49%, also oppose bilingual education in local public schools, while 47% favor it. And nearly half of respondents think efforts to educate students who speak little or no English have eroded the quality of instruction for English-speaking students.
     "My son was in a bilingual class, and it was bad," said Deborah Thayer, 44, a graphic designer from Oxnard. "The teacher even told me at the end of the second grade, 'Don't ever let him be in a bilingual class again, because this class learned half of what the other second-grade class learned.' And I've had friends with the same experience."
     Even ideas once dismissed as right-wing and radical have emerged as mainstream in the evolving 1990s debate over how to staunch the flow of illegal immigrants to this country.
     Just six years ago, for example, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) was widely criticized for proposing a change in the federal Constitution so children of illegal immigrants would not be granted citizenship automatically if born here. But now half of Ventura County residents favor such a change in the 14th Amendment, while only 42% oppose it. Statewide, such a change was favored 54% to 40% in a 1993 Times Poll. Taken together, these findings indicate the level of anti-immigrant fervor has not changed, Pinkus said.
     "I feel illegal immigration is a big problem," said Linda Ketelhut, 48, a payroll manager from Thousand Oaks. "I feel it's costing taxpayers a lot of money to support their medical bills. I don't like how we allow them to step across the border, have a baby and start collecting welfare. I just feel that's the reason they're coming over here."
     Local Latinos also see illegal immigration as a reason for concern--58% saying it is a major or moderate problem.
     But Latino and white residents split widely on whether illegal immigrants should be denied government assistance, public education and automatic citizenship for children born here.
     Fifty-five percent of Latinos would grant illegal immigrant children a public education, while only 45% of whites would extend that right.
     A strong 58% majority of Latinos would allow illegal immigrants to receive health and welfare services, compared with only 35% of their white counterparts.
     And 64% of Latinos would oppose any change in the Constitution to deny children of illegal immigrants automatic citizenship if born here--a position supported by only 35% of whites.
     "Illegal immigration is not really a problem," said Javier Morales, 24, a legal immigrant from Mexicali who has lived nearly all his life in Oxnard. "They're the ones, most of them at least, who come here to work and find a better life.
     "They pay their taxes, and do the jobs that people really don't want to do," added Morales, whose parents toiled as farm workers and whose 54-year-old father still works as a celery picker.
     Oxnard attorney Carmen Ramirez, whose ancestors moved here from Mexico 200 years ago, said today's anti-immigrant mood dates to the beginning of this country. And she said such views are always based on ignorance and racism.
     "There's always the fear of the stranger," said Ramirez, head of the nonprofit Channel Counties Legal Services. "It's easy to distinguish people based on the color of their skin or their language. I know that plays a part here. I see it, and I hear it.
     "But this is all just a part of our long-standing tradition to hate immigrants," she said. "It was 'Irish Need Not Apply,' then it was WAP, or Without Appropriate Papers. It comes when there is an economic downturn and people feel threatened. It's still here although the recession is over. Maybe it just takes awhile to dissipate."
     But Gallegly, who wrote part of the far-reaching immigration reform package passed by Congress last fall, said the strong feelings against illegal immigrants are based in reality, not on racist emotion.
     "Illegal immigrants come in all races and colors," he said. "The key word here is illegal. People should be punished for violating the law."
     Those who could suffer the most are legal immigrants, he said, because his colleagues on Capitol Hill are now pushing hard to cut legal immigration as well.
     "All too often people look at immigrants as one group whether they've applied for 10 years or just ran across the border last night," Gallegly said.
     That cut hasn't happened yet.
     About 916,000 legal immigrants entered the U.S. last year--an increase of 27% over 1995. In Ventura County, legal immigration surged to 3,495 in 1996, up 31% from the year before. About two-thirds of the local legal immigrants were from Mexico.
     Immigration officials estimate that about 5 million illegal immigrants live in this country, including about 2 million in California, nearly 6% of the total population.
     There is no reliable data on how many illegal immigrants live in Ventura County. But if the statewide estimate holds true here, that would mean more than 40,000 local residents live here illegally.
     Gallegly--and others--insist that the financial costs of such numbers can be calculated.
     A 1993 survey conducted for Gallegly by Ventura County officials found that the county spends about $15 million a year on illegal immigrants.
     Those figures, based on a one-month snapshot of expenses, were quickly denounced as guesswork based on incomplete information.
     But new county figures indicate the earlier ones may have been conservative.
     Helen Reburn, chief deputy director of the county social services agency, said services to illegal immigrants are limited to emergency medical care and treatment of expectant mothers.
     However, illegal immigrants may benefit additionally because their children born here are eligible for poverty assistance, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children and food stamps.
     Payments to such children was an estimated $6.4 million a year in 1993, and about $10.3 million today, according to county figures.
     About 1,300 families with an undocumented parent receive AFDC assistance, about 15% of total recipients, Reburn said. Those families receive about $7.5 million a year, based on the average monthly payment of $480.
     In addition, about 790 households where at least one member is undocumented receive food stamps, about 14% of the total, she said. Those households receive about $2.84 million a year, based on the average monthly payment of about $300.
     Some 4,400 illegal immigrants, including 812 pregnant women, also are eligible for restricted emergency medical coverage, Reburn said.
     The costs of county health services to illegal immigrants were not available last week. But in 1993, care provided by the county hospital was estimated at $3.7 million.
     Some of that care will be cut by federal and state reforms Jan. 1, because prenatal care for expectant mothers will no longer be provided free, Reburn said.
     But that might not save any money, she said, because pregnant women will be treated only in cases of emergency and when they deliver their babies. That care will come in the emergency room, where it is expensive.
     There is also an increased chance that babies will have birth defects or medical problems because mothers received no prenatal care, she said.
     The bottom line on services to illegal immigrants, Reburn said, "is that people do hire undocumented workers to work in the fields and packing houses in this county, and that's why they're really here."
     In figuring the societal costs of illegal immigration, Gallegly also points to a pilot program set up a year ago by the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the Ventura County Jail.
     The program, which screens inmates to see if they are in the country illegally, discovered about 1,000 criminals who were either illegal immigrants or legal immigrants who committed crimes serious enough to allow deportation.
     Immigration officials estimate those inmates represent 10% of all inmates in the County Jail last year.
     "In case after case, these guys were repeat offenders, but there had never been any screening," Gallegly said.
     The Times Poll found a keen concern about the link between illegal immigration and crime. More than one-third of respondents said illegal immigrants caused a great deal or good amount of crime and street violence, while 47% said they caused very little crime.
     Concern was significantly higher among senior citizens, 56% of whom thought immigrants were responsible for a good amount of crime. Only one-fourth of young adults, those 18 to 29 years old, thought so.
     The Times Poll suggests, however, that Ventura County residents see a difference between legal and illegal immigrants.
     More than twice as many poll respondents consider illegal immigrants a major or moderate problem in this county, 64%, compared with 27% who believe legal immigrants are a problem.
     Yet, 38% of residents said they think immigrants of all types are a drain on the economy, taking more in social services and unemployment than they give back in taxes and productivity. Twenty-four percent said that immigrants give more than they take.
     "I think immigration is too much right now, and it's overwhelming the town where I live," said Jennifer Smith-Holmes of Santa Paula. "I've heard people say they want to get out of town because there are so many Mexicans here now, that they can't get a job because they're not bilingual.
     "But I think that everybody deserves a place to live no matter where they come from," said the 33-year-old waitress. "I have three daughters who are racially mixed. Their father is half Latino and half black and I'm Norwegian and Irish. So we're just basically American, and part of the human race."
     But The Times Poll indicates that most county residents are less sanguine about changes in their community they think are related to immigration.
     And bilingual education is the hot-button issue this year.
     A recent Times Poll found that 80% of residents statewide--and 84% of Latinos--favor a proposed ballot measure that would require all public school instruction to be conducted in English and for students not fluent in English to be placed in a short-term immersion program.
     Ventura County residents questioned specifically about bilingual education also indicated strong reservations.
     About half of poll respondents oppose bilingual instruction and think it lessens the educational quality for English-speaking students.
     Latinos, however, were much more supportive of bilingual education because it allows children to learn in their own language while gradually assimilating to another language and culture.
     Fifty-seven percent of local Latinos strongly favored bilingual education in public schools, compared with only 19% of white residents.
     "Our society is generally concerned about services to people from another country," said Cliff Rodriguez, head of bilingual education at the county Superintendent of Schools Office. "And bilingual education is another example of that."

     Ventura County: Immigrant Impact
     A Los Angeles Times Poll of 1,286 Ventura County residents found a deep resentment of illegal immigrants. About half would deny them welfare services, ban their children from public schools and change the federal Constitution to deny their children born here automatic U.S. citizenship. Nearly half also think bilingual classes are detrimental to the education of English-speaking students.
     Q. Does the increasing diversity that immigrants bring improve or threaten American culture?
     Ventura County:
     Improve it: 34%
     Threaten it: 28%
     No effect: 26%
     Other: 12%
     Improve it: 39%
     Threaten it: 38%
     No effect: 10%
     Other: 13%
     Improve it:30 %
     Threaten it: 42%
     No effect: 18%
     Other: 10%

     Legal immigrantion is a problem:
     Ventura: 26%
     State: 47%
     Not a problem:
     Ventura: 57%
     State: 48%
     Know someone who moved because immigrants are moving into community?
     Ventura Yes: 27%
     Ventura No: 72%
    Immigrants take more from the economy than they give:
     Ventura 38%
     Contribute more than they take:
     Ventura: 24%
     About equal
     Ventura: 6%
     Don't know
     Ventura: 32%

     Illegal Immigrants
     Illegal immigrants are a problem:
     Ventura: 64%
     State: 86%
     Should illegal immigrants be barred from attending public schools?
     Should be barred:
     Ventura: 48%
     State: 41%
     Should not be barred:
     Ventura: 46%
     State: 53%
    Favor denying public services to illegal immigrants
     Ventura 54%
     Oppose denying public services to illegal immigrants
     Ventura 41%
     Favor changing law so children of illegal immigrants are not automatically citizens if born in U.S.
     Ventura: 50%
     State: 54%
     Oppose changing that law
     Ventura: 42%
     State: 40%
     How much crime and street violence is caused by illegal immigrants?
     A lot
     Ventura: 36%
     State: 45%
     Not much
     Ventura: 47%
     State: 50%
     Don't know
     Ventura: 17%
     State: 5%

     Favor bilingual education in your public school
     Ventura: 47%
     Los Angeles: 60%
     Oppose bilingual education
     Ventura: 49%
     Los Angeles: 37%
     Say teaching non-English speaking students in public schools has had effect on education of English-speaking students
     Ventura: 70%
     Of those who think there is an effect, those who think it is negative
     Ventura: 64%
     Rate the amount of money spent locally on teaching non-English speaking students:
     Too much: (Ventura) 24%
     Too little: (Ventura) 10%
     Right amount: (Ventura) 35%
     Don't know: (Ventura) 31%
     Those who send their children to private or parochial schools: (Ventura) 15%
     Why they send them to private schools: (Accept 2 replies)
     Better education: (Ventura) 59%
     Religious education: (Ventura) 21%
     Safety: (Ventura) 16%
     Smaller classes: (Ventura) 16%
     Better discipline: (Ventura) 13%

     Limited-English Students
     In the 1995-96 school year, nearly one in every five Ventura County public school students was identified as "limited English proficient." The numbers remain low in the east county, but exceed the state average in several west county school districts.
     State: 24%
     Ventura County: 19%
     Oak Park (Unified): 2%
     Simi Valley (Unified): 5%
     Thousand Oaks (Unified): 6%
     Ojai (Unified): 6%
     Camarillo (Elementary): 8.5%
     Ventura (Unified): 11%
     Moorpark (Unified): 16%
     Santa Paula (High School): 20%
     Oxnard (High School): 30%
     Santa Paula (Elementary): 32%
     Hueneme (Elementary): 32%
     Rio (Elementary): 32%
     Fillmore (Unified): 37.5%
     Oxnard (Elementary): 47%

     How The Poll Was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 1,286 adults in Ventura County by telephone Sept. 20-Sept. 23. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the county. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and unlisted numbers could be contacted. The sample was weighted slightly to conform with Census figures for sex, race, age ad education. The margin of sampling error for all adults is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.
     Source: L.A. Times polls; State Dept. of Education