By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Weighing humanity vs. cost of illegal immigration in Hall County
Debate renewed over benefits to undocumented residents
The District 2 Public Health Department states it follows the law when it comes to providing health services. District 2 Public Health spokesman Dave Palmer said it might be less of a burden to the state in the long run to provide certain preventive services free of charge to avoid the spread of diseases that could burden the population.

Government benefits

Benefits undocumented immigrants can get

• K-12 education

• Emergency medical care

Benefits undocumented immigrants can’t get

• Food stamps

• Social Security

• Supplemental Security Income

• Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

• Medicaid

• Medicare Part A (hospitalization)

• PeachCare health insurance for children

• HUD Public Housing and Section 8 program

Source: Georgia Budget and Policy Institute

Ana Miranda said she recently returned to Gainesville from Mexico, where she visited her deported husband.

Miranda, who said she has papers to legally work here, stays with a daughter and grandchildren at the public housing complex adjacent to Gainesville Housing Authority headquarters, 750 Pearl Nix Parkway.

Miranda’s daughter and grandchildren — all born in the United States — live without fear of being deported. Miranda said that’s not the case with many Latinos who fear getting arrested and sent back to their country of origin, as was her husband eight years ago at the height of another crackdown against undocumented immigrants.

“Many are afraid to leave their homes,” she said. “We live in fear.”

National debate continues to rage over immigration policies, including the cost of illegal immigrants on communities and what government services, such as public housing, they receive.

On one side of the argument, advocates for illegal immigrants say they pay their way in taxes, including property and sales taxes. On the flip side, others are resentful because undocumented immigrants could be receiving public assistance that should be going to citizens and other legal residents.

The debate has been strongly felt locally as protesters participated in “A Day Without Immigrants” on Feb. 16, and days later many immigrants and advocates waved signs at passing motorists along E.E. Butler and Jesse Jewell parkways.

These events developed just a few days after immigration agents arrested 680 undocumented immigrants in various states, including Georgia.

As part of an ongoing series on immigration, the Congressional Budget office said the budgetary impact of approximately 12 million illegal immigrants varies from state to state. However, the CBO states that according to most studies “state and local governments spend more on unauthorized immigrants than they collect in revenues from that population.”

Agencies that render public assistance don’t want to get caught in the debate’s crossfire.

‘No federal dollars’ subsidize undocumented

Beth Brown, executive director of Gainesville Housing Authority, points to a standing U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development directive to clear any misunderstanding. The memo states in part: “A family is considered to be eligible if at least one member of the family (adult or minor child) is determined to be a citizen or have eligible immigration status.”

However, the same directive adds that illegal immigrants “are required to pay market rent such that no HUD dollars are used to subsidize them.”

Brown said no cash is given out by the agency and no dollars are used for those who cannot show legal documents.

“There’s a complicated formula, but anyone not here legally does not get federal dollars,” Brown said. “No federal dollars are used to subsidize an illegal immigrant.”

The Division of Family and Children’s Services takes a similar approach in dispensing the Georgia food stamp program, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to spokeswoman Mary Beth Lukich.

Lukich said for a family with household members who are here both legally and illegally in the country, benefits are given to those who are legal. However, she said the illegal member’s income is used to count toward the total household budget.

As an example, Lukich said in a household of five with one ineligible household member, income is counted for all five but benefits are only issued based on four.

“In short, undocumented aliens and illegal immigrants are not eligible for SNAP benefits,” Lukich said.

Wendy Glasbrenner, a Gainesville attorney with Georgia Legal Services, characterizes as false the notion that undocumented immigrants are abusing the system.

“They are not eligible for food stamps or Medicaid or Social Security or Medicare, so the myth that they are draining these resources is false,” Glasbrenner said. “Of course, if they have citizen children, the kids might be eligible for the same benefits as children born to natural born parents.”

The Georgia Legal Services Program is a private nonprofit law firm funded by grants, the largest coming from the Legal Services Corp. funded by Congress, according to Glasbrenner. She said the firm does no immigration work, and can only represent immigrants who are documented or are victims of domestic abuse or human trafficking.

“Because of our restrictions, our Hispanic caseload does not match the Hispanic population in Gainesville,” Glasbrenner said.

Health services don’t check legal status

David Palmer, a spokesman for the District 2 Public Health Department that covers a 13-county region that includes Hall, said the agency “follows the law” when it comes to providing health services.

In 2016, the Hall County Public Health Department served 22,667 clients who made a total of 57,721 visits and received 221,555 services, according to Palmer. He said about half of the clients served and more than half of the services provided were for children from infancy to age 12.

Palmer said children’s services include nutrition, immunizations, dental and physicals.

“So one child may receive multiple services throughout the year,” Palmer said.

In some instances, Palmer said it might be less of a burden to the state in the long run to provide certain preventive services free to avoid the spread of diseases that could infect others. For example, he said those with infectious diseases such as meningitis, pertussis, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases may be treated.

Palmer said that as a safety net for basic health needs, the agency does not require proof of legal immigration status.

“We don’t want an environment that people feel threatened,” Palmer said. “That’s the last thing we want to do. … We do ask all our clients if they have insurance or how they will pay for services.”

If a person is uninsured, Palmer said the agency will ask for proof of income. According to the services provided, fees are charged on a sliding scale from paying nothing to paying 100 percent of the bill.

Palmer said some services may be provided at no cost for people who are income eligible. He said one example is the federally funded Vaccines for Children program that provides immunizations to uninsured children.

The Northeast Georgia Health System spends more than $17 million annually on charity care in Hall County, according to the most recent information provided by spokeswoman Michelle Oleson.

Oleson said the cost is probably higher because the $17 million figure does not include bad debt attributed to those unable to pay their bills. However, Oleson said NGHS can’t pinpoint a number of cases that may go to illegal immigrants.

“I don’t think we track how much of this comes from undocumented or illegal immigrants,” Oleson added.

School enrollment hard to measure

Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield told The Times it’s illegal for public schools to ask any questions about legal status. For that reason, he said he can’t quantify what percentage of the school district budget is dedicated to providing a K-12 education to illegal immigrants.

“We have no records related to that,” Schofield said.

Gainesville Schools Superintendent Wanda Creel cited the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plyler v. Doe declaring that state can’t deny students a public education on account of their immigration status.

“We cannot require students or parents to disclose or document immigration status,” Creel said.

Last month U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, introduced legislation to end tax-funded benefits to individuals residing in the United States illegally. The legislation attempts to undo a provision under the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy allowing illegal immigrants to claim the Earned Income Tax Credits retroactively.

“Under no circumstances should our system allow illegal immigrants to glean benefits at the expense of American taxpayers, and this bill allows call for us to examine the rule of law and enforce it fairly,” Collins said in a statement.

Ann Nixon, who not too long ago headed Habitat for Humanity and is now on the One Hall United Against Poverty Board with the United Way, said that debate misses the mark. She said the community should be reaching out to everyone in need instead of categorizing groups of people.

“It’s not based on their immigration status, it’s based on humanity,” Nixon said.