Proposition 187: Don't Mess With Texas
In November of 1994, Californians passed the most controversial piece of state legislation this decade. Proposition 187 was designed to stem the flow of illegal aliens into California by withholding all non-emergency medical benefits from non-naturalized citizens. Latinos turned out in record numbers to voice their disapproval, and for good reason too. The health care resolutions of Proposition 187 were products of poor reason and unsound economic judgment. The resolutions did not get the state any closer to a balanced budget, and only served to worsen the health care outlook for the future of California. It is clear that Proposition 187 was a mistake, and should not be encouraged to be repeated in Texas.
The most popular reason for passage, that supporters of Proposition 187 used, was the theory that a cut in illegal health services would save state taxpayers several million dollars a year. This argument only applies to states that have a personal income tax, often used to help fund health care for the state, and when the illegal immigrants avoid paying this tax. Texas does not have such a tax, so health care is funded by the taxes that everyone in the state pays. That means that illegal aliens are paying just as much as "real Americans" are in sales taxes, gas taxes, liquor taxes, and cigarette taxes. For example, illegal aliens in San Diego, California accounted for 26.6 million dollars in health care costs in 1994 (Serb 63). Not a single person would deny that this is a lot of money, and therefore would seem to be an excellent reason to cut funding right this minute. However, the logical person has to realize how important those same aliens are to filling the state's excise tax coffers each year. Excise taxes paid by 'illegals' were accounting for up 60.5 million in state tax alone (63). In retrospect, it hardly seems right to say that illegal immigrants are not paying their fair tax share for their health needs. It also isn't fair that "U.S. businesses need Mexican workers for low-paying jobs, but don't want them to have access to heath care while they are here" (Hudson 37).
Another economically based reason, that proponents of 187-like legislation have made, is that Texans will save money by denying non-emergency care to illegal aliens. Without close scrutiny, this seems to be a claim to make the pocket book happy. After all, we would still allow the 'aliens' the right to life saving treatments, but we would also save a bundle by cutting the little visits to the doctor for fevers, colds, and sprained ankles. What Texans have to ask, though, is how do we save money when we deny a forty-five dollar visit to the doctor for strep throat, but allow a twenty thousand dollar visit to intensive care when that 'alien' develops scarlet fever from the strep infection (Cowley 53). It would have been much more cost-effective to have provided direct care services up front, and California quickly found this to be true. Premature babies cost San Diego more than $500, 000 dollars. Complications from pregnancies added an additional $112,000 to the bill (Serb 63). According to the claims made, these types of costs should have disappeared after #187 was passed. The illegal immigrants were supposed to return to Mexico for their pre-natal care, but the evidence proves they didn't. Instead, the illegal mothers received no pre-natal care, and had emergencies that cost the state even more money.
There are more problems with Proposition 187-like proposals than just economic problems. Texans must be aware of the moral and ethical problems we would create if we supported a similar plan for Texas. For instance, Catholic Bishop John Ricard points out that if Texans explicitly set out to identify all illegal aliens, and stop them from receiving care, we are likely to have a discriminatory situation. Every American with tan skin and a name ending in "z" is likely to be perceived as potential illegal immigrants ("Health" 248). The National Christian Coalition also points out that "to measure national health care decisions more by economic than moral or compassionate standards is appalling" (248). But even more appalling is what we are asking our nation's doctors to do. By requiring that physicians report every immigrant without documentation, and to refuse them treatment when ill, we are boldly demanding that they violate their sacred Hippocratic oath. Care providers have based their professions on helping any person in need since the time of the ancient Greeks. In true spirit doctors should know no boundaries between two lands. In fact, why should they refuse to give treatment because a person happens to be on this side of the Rio Grande when they fall ill? After all, "bacteria and viruses distribute themselves without regard for national borders" (Gaffney 228), and "diseases like tuberculosis do not check for immigration status" (Health 248). Some citizens might believe that diseases like tuberculosis were a thing of the past, but a Californian study found that seventy percent of all immigrants arrive carrying the germs that cause tuberculosis (Cowley 53). Remember that these are immigrants that were able to save up enough money at home to make the voyage to America, and not be 'broke' when they got here. The percentage of illegal aliens carrying diseases is probably a lot higher than 70%. They don't get sick because they have built-in immunities for the diseases found in their homelands, but we do not have many of the same immunities that 'illegals' have. The result is that the diseases go undetected until an emergency arises and the 'alien' can be seen by a doctor. By not allowing illegal aliens to receive non-emergency care, we are putting our little Texans at risk.
As we prepare for the possibility that similar proposals might be advocated in Texas, let us all remember the ideals of humanity that we like to say that we all share. Every American likes to think that they have a kind and caring attitude toward the less fortunate, but a short case study published in Newsweek shows exactly how kind and caring legislation like Prop. 187 would be. In the case study, the family of Julio Cano, a twelve-year-old, anguish over whether or not to take their son to a doctor in California. Julio had developed a deep cough accompanied by severe shooting pains down his back. The family decided not to risk a doctor visit because Proposition 187 had just ordered that any 'illegal' seeking care be reported. Instead the family waited until the condition worsened enough to be able to call the paramedics, but by then it was too late. Little Julio died from leukemia on the way to the hospital.
We must keep our pocket books out of the decision to reform health care, and instead keep the true story of Julio Cano in our hearts. Why should we turn our backs on aliens residing in this country just because a few citizens, most with little real knowledge of the true situation, think that this is the way to end illegal immigration. Illegal aliens are hired by many, many people to mow the lawn, watch the kids, clean the house, or to cook for the family. A lot of times, you neighbors do not claim these workers as employees in order to skip out on taxes themselves, and thus avoid paying their fair share. With the benefit of hindsight, Californians are now able to see just how poor their reasoning was when they passed Proposition 187. There is no doubt that Texans will meet that call to find other ways besides cutting health care to stem the tide of illegal immigrants. Maybe health care costs of aliens can become a part of the federal budget. Also, the federal government could try and improve relations with Mexico and persistently show the economic burden that their lack of border control is having on states such as Texas. Whatever is done though, Texans will not jump hastily into action. Any resolution will be the product of careful reasoning and informed economic judgements.
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