(VIDEO) Houston Immigration Summit: The Cost Savings of Implementing Immigration Reform - Part 2
On January 10th, a summit called the Immigration Summit: The Cost of Savings of Implementing Immigration Reform was hosted at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The Immigration Summit was sponsored by AJC (American Jewish Committee) and the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.
The event was held to discuss and deliberate the undocumented labor force in our community and its impact on education, health care, security, unemployment and loss of tax revenues. The AJC and Kinder Institutes states, "By providing the facts and separating the fears and fiction associated with the immigration issue, participants can respond effectively to both the challenges and the opportunities of todays immigrant experience."
Below is Part 2 of 3 videos from the Summit. Speakers in this segment include Beto Cardenas, former staff counsel for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison; David S. Lopez, CEO Harris County Hospital District; and Deacon Joe Rubio, Vice President for Advocacy and Social Programs, Archdiocese of Galveston and Houston.
Beto Cardenas: We do have shared goals. Let me share some of those with you for today, these include a rational, humane, and just immigration policy. I don’t think anybody here disagrees with that. Because of how we achieve these results, and so today, I am here to address public policy, through public safety, and law enforcement, particularly a perspective on law enforcement and how cost savings can be achieved by implementing immigration reform. One of the things I’d like think about is whether we end this policy that we don’t have, or want to have. We look at the part, or we look at the whole, and how we define the public good. I believe the highest priority of any law enforcement agency is to protect the community it serves. With respect to enforcing our immigration laws, the department of Homeland security through the immigration and customs enforcement agency, achieves their mission and cooperation with state and local governments. Now that came from the illegal immigration reform and control act of 1996. In Harris County we are the only urban jurisdiction in Texas that runs a 287G program. What is a 287G program? Its one that allows a state and local government entity to enter into a partnership with ICE, The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, under a joint memorandum of agreement. The state or local entity receives delegated authority to for immigration enforcement strictly within those jurisdictions. Under a signed MOA, Memorandum of Agreement, between the department of Homeland security and our sheriff Adrian Garcia, we have trained and certified employees of the sheriff’s office who work side by side with those ICE officers only in the Harris County jail, and the identify illegal immigrants. All 254 Texas counties, in addition to an array of municipalities, including the city of Houston, also use the secure community’s database. What is the secure community’s database? It is another ICE program in partnership with federal state and local law enforcement agencies that identify criminal aliens, as they are defined by law, through modernized information sharing. They prioritize enforcement actions to insure apprehension and removal of dangerous criminal aliens, and transforms the enforcement process and systems to achieve certain results. In 2009 our very own Harris County budgeting and auditing staff determined that the annual cost of implementing both the 287G and the secure communities program, was an estimated 1.1 million dollars, in 09 those figures took into account salaries for personnel. We can assume that there has been some modest increase. Keep in mind for that the Harris County’s sheriff’s office the annual budget for 2011 and 2012 is 392.5 million. Almost all of those costs are attributed to payroll for deputies and detention officers who otherwise would not be serving the function sets of 1.1 million. The cost of housing inmates merely because they are being held for immigration enforcement purposes or examination is really non-existent in the sense that ICE works with our county jail on a day to day basis. When we ask ourselves what a change in policy could bring, you could see an effective result of the administration of these two programs. Such a result would be contingent on whether ICE would actually continue a partnership with a local law enforcement agency, and whether that agency would also administer the programs. So if you terminate both of those programs you could have a reallocation of those resources. There is another program, the State Criminal Alien Assistance program, otherwise known as SCAP. It is one that the United States congress authorizes and appropriates funding for. It is a formula grant program that provides financial assistance for states and localities for correctional officer’s salaries incurred for incarcerating undocumented, criminal aliens as defined by law. In 2011 Harris county received, just shortly, like about 8 weeks ago, 2.387 million in grant funding from this program. So while you administer the 287G or secure communities program as they are, they are not a qualifying prerequisite for this particular grant funding. If you change public policy, this program could perhaps change as well at the federal level, but you can not guarantee that the funds would be there because congress has the appropriate. With respect to state legislation here’s a policy solution I’d like the audience to think about. A change that allows and encourages immigrants lacking legal status to obtain a driver privilege card, auto insurance, vehicle registration, could improve safety, raise government revenues, and allow law enforcement to efficiently and properly identify drivers. Said policy may also reduce the prevalence of having an undocumented traffic violator flee the scene of an accident given their fear of possible deportation, and as a result enhance safety for drivers, pedestrians, and law enforcement personnel. Studies particularly out of the state of Utah show that this is a cost savings to the taxpayers. I began by talking about the priority of law enforcement. I leave you with this. If the highest priority of law enforcement is truly the protection of all residents in the community it serves, than one must consider the reluctance of local residents with questionable legal status to identify themselves as prime victims, or prime witnesses. These individuals live in fear of deportation, and crime is neither prevented nor solved under these conditions. That is a cost to us in real dollars. As a result the job of maintaining public order really remains inhumane and unjust for the undocumented community, and at the very least remains a blemish of morality for all. Thank you.
David Lopez: I love Captive audience because really and truly I see healthcare as a major issue in our community. I don’t have any answers in terms of what we have to do moving forward, but I will tell you that what we are doing today is not acceptable, is not status quo, is not reasonable, is not appropriate, and it is something we are going to have to address, and let me say that offset that we as a district, myself personally and our staff, we believe in immigration reform. That’s something we’re going to have to address, that’s something a 2 hour discussion, and I’m not going to get into that, but I would say this, when individuals are here in our community, it’s not an immigration issue, it’s a healthcare issue. There are people who live amongst us that have needs that are great, that we have to address. You know what we try and do with the hospital district, we have one pretty good rule of thumb that we utilize in terms of providing care to the “undocumented, and one, here’s what we do and ask ourselves, if you’re as bad as the Houston chronicle we don’t do it, if it rates okay, then we do it. What does that mean? We’re not doing tummy tucks, facelifts, or no shots. We’re taking care of basic issues in our community that have to be addressed. On a serious note, I’ll tell you that we deal with this issue each and everyday. We had a young lady show up... and a 23 year old lady, undocumented, a cook in a restaurant downtown. Ill tell you what a restaurant, you’ve probably been there. She showed up and had typhus. You cannot put her back on the street without taking care of that. You have to address that as a matter of good public policy. So in that particular case, yes we take care of that individual, and it’s better for our community for us to do that than to have an outbreak of typhus. So we address that. Another example, we had a young lady show up, who was 21 years old, was pregnant, and had blood-pressure of 220 over 130. Now that is a walking stroke. We have three options. One, tell her that she is not covered, put her back on the street, she may stroke out and die; it’s no longer a problem. Option B, put her on a pre-natal program, 500 dollars probably, for the term of her pregnancy, and if not, she may go out, will carry the baby “to”, we will spend half a million dollars on that baby in 7 months, or she will stroke out and be in the ICU for an extended period of time, and so obviously the answer is, put her on a prenatal program. So would you rather spend 500 dollars or half a million or more on a very ill child or patient that has great needs? And so from our perspective this is an area we are going to have to address folks. There is a lot of talked about reform in our country. That you know what, there are a lot of good ideas being performed with health reform. However, one of the things that concerns me is that the reform bill basically exempts the undocumented from buying into what are going to be called purchasing combines, where you can spread the risk How to understand something, we allow them to buy auto insurance, we allow them to buy home insurance, but why is it that we do not allow them in the current bill to acquire health insurance? What’s the difference? I think it’s getting caught up in political issues regarding immigration reform, so we are going to have to address that folks. It is not something we can look the other way about. I will tell you that, from our perspective, it’s an area that we watch very carefully, but in our system for example, our annual budget is roughly 1.1-1.2 billion per year. If I look at my total cost of the undocumented, we had roughly about 64,000 individuals seek care in our facilities during the last year. Those 64,000 individuals accounted for about 451,000 encounters. The vast majority of those being on the out-patient side, some in-patient. However in-patient costs are very expensive. You know the average “cost” today for an in-patient setting is 2,500 to 3,000 per day, and out-patient visits are roughly a 100 dollars, but a vast majority of these individuals got care in our clinic system, where we avoid more expensive “review” care. But those 64,000 individuals, again accounting for 451,000 encounters, that’s in-patient and out-patient. Now on a budget of 1.1, 1.2 billion per year, the total cost the we incurred for those individuals was about a 190 million. They did pay. Many individuals are paying all their bills. They paid about 35 million I guess in payments. So we received 35 million in payments. That “rent, rate, red” (? 30:20) basically meant that the annual expense that we incurred after the payment was about a 162 million. You know, it’s only about 13, 14 percent of our budget, but it is growing every year, it is growing every year by, it is growing by 1, 2, maybe 3 “percentage points”(? 30:37) every year, but we are going to have to address that. What we are trying to do in our community is let people know that don’t wait until you get so ill and you have to come see us. Many of the undocumented deny to seek healthcare for fear that they are going to report to the INS. We are not part of the INS, we don’t “surrogate”, we don’t do that, and here’s a startling fact that we’ve also found out about our undocumented population. One, they are easily younger than the population that live here, they’re probably in better health. Many of the men that come over here are not coming here to get health care. They are coming here to work. So the one, the many that we see in our emergency room or our clinics are people who had an accident or people who had some other issue that need to be addressed on an emergent basis, but let me say this, the vast majority, the vast majority of our volume in our system is women and children. 80 percent of my undocumented volume is women and children. You know, we asked one of our patients, why do you bring your families to here to this country whenever you are here to work. One individual, and again this may not be based on empirical data, but I was talking to one individual, he said, “you know I did try and come across legally, I filled out my paperwork, I got it all in, I told my family, we are not going to go across to that great country illegally, we are going to do it the right way. And he told us in one of our encounters, “You know, I turned in my paperwork, and I was so proud of turning it in, but then when I was given an appointment for my hearing, it was seventeen years from the day I turned it in.” He said, “What am I going to tell my family, Ill see you in seventeen years?” So he said, “I brought my family.” Now I don’t say that I agree with that logic, but I’m saying is that folks we have an issue that we need to address. Ultimately, many of our patients have a dire need for healthcare. Whatever we can do to see them in an environment where they can get health care and not fear that they are going to get reported is very important to us. Again, we can either take of them for a 100 dollars on an out-patient basis, or “weak, wait” (? 33:030 that they get ill that they are emitted to an institution where we will spend 2,500, 3,000 dollars per day. So for us I think we need to look at this from a broader perspective. We will continue to care for those individuals in our community that need healthcare. Now when the hospital district legislation was enacted back in the 60’s, there were two criteria that one needed to have to qualify for care. You know, system one, if they reside in the county, and two, you had to show proof of income. So ultimately, there is no requirement in our legislation, in our enabling legislation, to determine whether you are here legally or not. And some attorneys have said that if you impose a third standard, which is citizenship, you are going beyond what the law has enacted. I’m not going to get into that, but I will tell you this. We will continue to see individual who need healthcare. On a good public policy perspective just to reiterate, we are not doing anything that we would be embarrassed about, but we are doing the kin of things that our community needs, that you would expect us as stake holders to do the right thing for the people in our community living amongst us. Thank you.
Deacon Joe Rubio: Good morning, sons and daughters of immigrants, grandsons and granddaughters of immigrants, great, great sons and daughters of immigrants. We are an immigrant nation, but we forget that. And each wave of immigrants that comes seems to forget it a little bit more. Let us recall that, and let us do something about it. Saint Francis of Assisi, a deacon by the way, said, “Preach the gospel always, and sometimes use words.” Sometimes use words. In other words action speaks louder than words, action. There is a community of caring in Houston, in this County, where action marks its approach and attitude toward the undocumented. We didn’t say illegal. The undocumented community of Houston and Harris County, and beyond. It is a faith based community. It is a non-profit community. It is a volunteer community, and it gives on selflessly of it self. For those hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who are here but hidden in the recesses of there undocumentation. Some are powerful advocates, like Maria who is here, or Stan Marek, who is here. Powerful, powerful advocates. Others like Paul, you can tell, is a powerful provider of medical services to the undocumented community to the extent that he can, and his board supports that. We should be grateful for that. But again the cost to this community and other boards, other execs other community organizers, other workers who are providing services that the state and federal government refuse to provide to an element that is working very hard, to provide services, to provide streets, to provide houses, to provide all’s matter of accommodations and services that you and I need. It is a caring community. It is a caring community and we are just one of many. We share this with many other agencies. We work collaboratively. It does come at a cost. We would do it anyway, but it does come at a cost. Why? Back in the 1900’s, the U.S. census reported how many recent immigrants were on the public dime. The city of Philadelphia numbered 45,000, were on the public dime. That is no longer the case across this country. Immigrants no longer, the undocumented, they do not qualify for Medicare, for Medicaid except in a rare exception, temporary assistance for needy families, children’s health insurance program with an exception, food stamps, supplemental security, or public housing assistance. All the basic needs that the community needs to support low income and vulnerable populations. So who picks up? Who does it? Well, the federal and state governments to some extent still carry on. For example, the Texas emergency Medicaid, is emergency Medicaid like it reads, and that’s available for extreme situations, but also childbirth. The Texas family violence program protects the woman who is abused. The Texas children’s health insurance program does provide perinatal coverage, during the pregnancy and that first year of life. The perinatal stage, and there are few other limited programs. So who picks it up? It’s the faith community, the non-profit community, the volunteer community. There is a cost for the state of Texas for these various programs. The state emergency Medicaid expends up to 62 or more million dollars a year. The Family violence program is much more modest, 1.3 million dollars. The catholic charities, we consistently spend about 1.6 million dollars through our St. Francis Cabrini legal immigration clinic, with wonderful director, Wafa Abdin, who’s up here. It consists of outreach every year, and this past year over 13,000 undocumented persons learned what their status was by obtaining...inaudible... It costs money. It costs money to hold a child. It costs money to put immigration lawyers and there assistance, to dedicate a day to working with these clients, to vetting them, to tell them some, this law is broken there is nothing we can do for you, or to say, Ah, even though it’s a complicated code as the IRS on most, we have found a niche. “We have found a little place where we think we’ve got a case.” It goes on. But these people are also hungry, these people are also homeless sometimes, these people need the basic necessities, and so there are other programs to feed them, to house them whenever we can, to care for that woman who has been beaten, and their children. Those are costs. Those are costs. There are other costs. There are costs when you get the angry phone call from one who says,” I will never give to catholic charities again, never, never, never, because you deal with those illegals.” There’s the ugly letters, the telephone calls, there’s also the foundations that say, “No, we can’t give to you, you deal with those illegal immigrants.” Yes, there are costs. The political model is not working to resolve this. The faith communities, agencies that are of non-profit nature; volunteers will continue to serve, but we need relief, we need your assistance. Archbishop Fiorenza, the Archbishop emeritus of Galveston, Houston archdiocese, once came into a room that was trying to raise some capital funds, and he said, “I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news.” “The good news is, we have the money.” And so a voice, maybe it was Stan Marek’s voice said, “ Well, how could there possibly be bad news?” The archbishop replied, “It’s still in your pocket.” We have the solutions. We know how to craft the laws and the public policies. That well need these hard working, dedicated, selfless people, who have left a land because they couldn’t feed their families. We know how to create a path to legalization, but it’s still in our pockets. Action speaks louder than words.