Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Immigration experts debate reforms, discuss “hidden tax”

The United States is either being buried by an unsustainable wave of illegal immigration, or the country isn’t doing enough to accept and assist immigrants, depending on who was speaking at the April 16 DU Strategic Issues Program panel.

The non-partisan panel, in the process of listening to experts on all sides of the immigration debate, heard from Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, Julien Ross, director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, and Steven Summer, president and CEO of the Colorado Hospital Association.

Beck, contending current rates of immigration threaten the quality of life in the U.S., said the key to controlling immigration is twofold. First, he said, government must shut off the “jobs magnet” by requiring employers to use E-Verify and other methods to deny employment to immigrants who can’t prove they are in this country legally. Then, the government needs to undo policies that allow “chain migration,” which guarantee entry to relatives of those who enter the country legally. Without curbs, population in the U.S. will continue to rise dramatically.

“Students who are in college today, they’re going to see a half billion people in this country in their lifetime,” Beck said. “When you add several million people to your state, everything about your quality of life changes.”

Ross opposed both points.

Tightening border controls only benefits smugglers and forces immigrants to take more dangerous routes through the desert to get here, tightening labor rules only benefits unethical employers who will exploit those already here, and old policies developed prior to the rapid pace of globalization in the past 20 years are no longer valid, he said.

Instead, Ross argued, the U.S. must look abroad to solve global problems by helping other countries establish living wages and develop economies that would allow workers to stay at home. And immigrants already in this country must be offered a path to legalized status and assistance in learning English and developing job skills.

“We need to educate our constituents, and we all will need to sacrifice,” Ross said.

Regardless of the causes or solutions to immigration problems, there are real problems, Summer said. Hospitals in Colorado feel the impact of uninsured patients every day, and if immigrants—legal or illegal—don’t have jobs that provide insurance, they show up at hospital emergency rooms and have no ability to pay. When that happens, hospitals are by law still required to provide care, and that cost is passed on to everyone with insurance.

He said hospitals don’t ask about immigration status.

Insured patients pay 130 to 140 percent of the cost of their care, to make up for costs that go unpaid by the uninsured, Summer said.

“We refer to it as a ‘hidden tax,’” he said.

The Strategic Issues Program panel, led by Chairman Jim Griesemer, meets next on April 30, when members will hear from Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens.

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