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Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007 | On Sept. 26, the voiceofsandiego.org posted an article with the headline “Fellow Academics Question Validity of Illegal Immigration Study.” Rather than accurately detailing the findings of the study, the article impugns the integrity of an internationally renowned faculty member at San Diego State University who has published widely and is known for conducting cutting-edge research.
A careful reading of the report shows that the report’s authors, Dr. Weeks and Dr. Eisenberg, were well aware that there are benefits that the community of San Diego county, in general, receives from the presence of undocumented immigrants. However, the focus of this report was to inform the public discussion about the specific cost to the government of the county of San Diego — the entity over which the County Board of Supervisors has elected jurisdiction. The report has neither a pro- nor an anti-immigrant bias, and was done in collaboration with a larger project, with an identical purpose and methodology for all border counties, sponsored by the U.S.-Mexico Border Counties Coalition and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Indeed, it was an update of a previous similar study done in 2000, also funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, in which Professor Weeks also participated. These facts were noted in the report as well as in public discussion at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting, but were ignored by the contributors to the voiceofsandiego.org article.
The report details the fact that 75 percent of the costs to the government of the county of San Diego of providing services to or on behalf of undocumented immigrants are in the area of public safety. San Diego County spends a significant amount of county funds on arresting, jailing, prosecuting, defending, incarcerating, and then deporting criminal aliens (the USDOJ term), and then dealing with them again when they re-enter the country.
The U.S. government recognizes that these are costs to a border county such as San Diego, but last year reimbursed the county of San Diego only $2.2 million of an estimated $75 million in County expenditures. These and the other costs detailed in the report are real costs to county government, and any analysis of the impact of undocumented immigrants must include an assessment of costs. To say that this study is somehow not valid because it calculated such costs is patently absurd.
Furthermore, cognizant of the concern that the income to the government of San Diego County from undocumented immigrants should be taken into account, Professor Weeks did address this very issue in his public comments to the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 25. These comments were made available to the press and must have been heard by the voiceofsandiego.org since the photograph of Dr. Weeks making his comments was taken by them and posted along with the on-line article. It was his opinion that the income funneled to county government, which by California law would largely be in the form of property taxes and sales taxes, would not equal the estimated costs borne by the county government on behalf of undocumented immigrants. A reader of Dr. Weeks’s opinion may agree or disagree with him, but disagreement implies that you have data and information going beyond that available to Dr. Weeks.
If that is the case, then now is the time to step forward and contribute to an increase in “civic participation by giving citizens the knowledge and in-depth analysis necessary to become advocates for good government and social progress” which is the stated aim of the voiceofsandiego.org.
Sergio Rey is a professor of geography at San Diego State University.