Nevada can’t ignore illegal immigrant problem |

Nevada can’t ignore illegal immigrant problem

Pat Hickey
For the Nevada Appeal

Tales of human heartbreak spilled out into the hallways like the crowd at the Reno City Hall this past Saturday. The same was true in Las Vegas when state lawmakers held town hall meetings on the troubled state of the Nevada budget.

But along with the tearful pleas for budgetary clemency from those representing the disabled, elderly, mentally ill and classroom teachers, some unexpected voices were heard from a couple of state welfare workers concerned that illegal residents were getting more than their fair share of the state’s human services pie.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) was created so that needy persons could get temporary welfare checks to support their families in times of turmoil. The “fairness issue” raised by the state workers is that illegal immigrants are faring better than U.S. citizens these days in the growing welfare lines.

Citizens are only eligible for a total of 60 months of lifetime benefits, while illegal Nevada residents, or more accurately their children, can receive up to 18 years of benefits. TANF’s caseload has grown by 96 percent since the recession hit two years ago.

Life begetting life is part of the problem. Since 2000, Nevada’s native population has grown by around 24 percent, while the foreign-born population has ballooned by 61 percent. A recent study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) found that illegal immigrants cost Nevada around $630 million annually, which is about 70 percent of the state’s current shortfall.

Some analysts wonder how much longer we can bear such an immigrant baby boom. Americans are not only worried, they are increasingly becoming resentful. A November 2009 Rasmussen Poll found that “85 percent of likely voters say that individuals should be able to prove that they are in the country legally before they receive any federal, state or local government services.”

Given the outlook for a slow economic recovery coupled with the rapid growth of non-citizen families; Nevada could be looking at a socially explosive issue causing further implosion of the state’s safety net. The ticking population time bomb is also brushing up against the “tip of an economic iceberg.” Or so said Sen. Bill Raggio, who told the Reno town hall meeting that Nevada might be facing an almost $3 billion shortfall when the 2011 session convenes.

Is Nevada in dire enough straights to consider drastic measures like what Arizona did, and enact employer sanctions against hiring undocumented workers? Even contemplating such policies would bring cries from progressives alleging class warfare.

But if the state must balance its budget on the backs of those Nevada workers and businesses it deems can pay for it, shouldn’t they have a say when most of them believe enough illegal immigration is already enough.

• Pat Hickey is a Carson City native and former member of the Nevada Assembly.