COMMENTARY | President Barack Obama was courting the nation’s large Hispanic vote when he created new immigration policy granting temporary legal stays for illegal immigrants under age 30 who had been in the United States for several years or more. These young immigrants have the opportunity to remain in the country and pursue citizenship if they serve in the military or show themselves to be successful students. While the move may have garnered Obama and his Democratic allies millions of individual votes in upcoming elections, a new problem has emerged in local and state elections: Do these millions of new legal residents deserve access to expensive government services?
According to Reuters , the state of Nebraska is joining the state of Arizona in intending to deny government services to this new class of immigrant-residents, which could total some 1.7 million people nationwide. The president’s new immigration policy, which defers deportation for at least two years, does not expressly require states to offer the same services accorded citizens and permanent residents. While the governors of Arizona and Nebraska are angering Hispanic voters and pro-immigrant groups by denying services they are justified in their actions by the weak national economy. There simply isn’t enough money in state budgets to pay out services and subsidies for an additional 1.7 million beneficiaries.
Paying big bucks in state assistance for these immigrant-residents is difficult to justify because there is no guarantee of how many of these immigrants will become permanent residents or American citizens. Governors, many of whom are already forced to lay off state employees, have an obligation to save as many state jobs and assist as many citizens as possible before spending scarce resources on a group that may or may not continue to exist as productive citizens in five to 10 years. Millions of dollars spent to educate immigrants at state universities would be wasted if any substantial percentage of those immigrants returned to Mexico, either voluntarily or via deportation, later on.
President Obama has put state governors along the U.S.-Mexico border in a tough spot. If they deny services and subsidies they look angry and racist. If they do allow these new immigrant-residents to access state services they can be criticized for spending scarce resources unwisely. Until the nationwide fiscal crisis is eased governors need to focus on spending wisely first, which means focusing on citizens.