By Delphine Schrank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 22, 2007
As Loudoun supervisors took the first step last week toward limiting illegal immigrants' access to county services, advocates and critics of the move disagreed on whether such a policy would be mostly symbolic or would mean significant savings for taxpayers.
The resolution, which the Board of Supervisors passed unanimously Tuesday, instructs the county's staff members to study what kinds of services could legally be denied to undocumented residents and how Loudoun could penalize employers who hire them. Staff are to report their findings in September.
The supervisors did not ask staff to determine what services illegal immigrants might be receiving or to estimate how much their use costs the county government.
Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling), the resolution's chief sponsor, offered his estimate last week: $20 million a year. He called it a "generic ballpark figure" representing the amount that Loudoun taxpayers would save if county officials adopted a stricter policy toward illegal immigrants.
Delgaudio said the number was based in part on a rough calculation of what the county is paying for court and police services because of the increase in crime caused by undocumented immigrants. He also cited the cost of housing inmates who are illegally in the country. Last year, the Loudoun Sheriff's Office arrested about 50 people who were later deported. Delgaudio said each, during his or her incarceration, cost the county about $100 a day in salaries to law enforcement workers.
"We don't have to service all the illegal immigrant criminals here. We can dispatch some of them, and they can go home," he said. "There is no room for illegal immigrants in our jails."
Officials at nonprofit groups in Loudoun that work with low-income and Hispanic residents said they doubted the cost to county government was nearly that high.
"It's a really creative use of numbers," Laura Valle, executive director of La Voz of Loudoun, a Hispanic advocacy group, said of Delgaudio's estimate. "For every number produced in one study that demonstrates one thing, there's at least three or four others. The fact is nobody has the exact numbers, so it's very hard to make those sorts of calculations."
Valle said most forms of assistance offered by the county, such as housing aid and treatment at emergency health clinics, require official proof of residency in Loudoun. So undocumented residents are ineligible to receive such services, she said.
Valle also said that school services are not at issue, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that local school systems cannot deny education services to the children of illegal immigrants.
Valle said she agreed with Loudoun supervisors about the need to send a message to the federal government that it should take steps to reform the immigration system. But deporting every illegal immigrant without stronger border controls will not work and will not address such problems as the need for more affordable housing for people who are here legally, she said.
Andy Johnston, executive director of Loudoun Cares, a nonprofit organization that runs a referral help line for health and human services, said he supported the call for a county staff study and agreed with Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (I) about the need for local jurisdictions to take action in the face of federal government paralysis.
"However, I pray that we never arrive at the point where shelters will have to turn people away because they have no papers," Johnston said.
He said he would be stunned if the county administration's study concluded that taxpayers were paying $20 million toward services used by illegal immigrants.
"The very nature of this population is that they don't seek services," Johnston said. "They fly under the radar."