Today's Topic



Response to
Michael Bloomberg

Natalia J. Garland

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The Mayor of New York City is Michael Bloomberg. On July 5, 2006, he gave a testimony to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Field Hearing on Federal Immigration Legislation. His testimony, as per my reading of it, seemed to contain some inconsistencies and skewed connections. I will respond to certain parts of Bloomberg's testimony and will organize my thoughts under categories of Healthcare, Education, America's Middle Class, National Sovereignty, Future Immigrants, and Alternatives. I will show that some New York City businesses are apparently employing an underclass workforce of uneducated and uninsured people in low-pay service jobs in New York City.

New York City

Bloomberg states that there are over 3 million immigrants in New York City; 500,000 of whom entered the country illegally. Immigrants account for around 40 percent of the city's population. Most immigrants live in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. Among students classified with Limited English Proficiency (L.E.P.) or as English Language Learners (E.L.L.), over 176 languages are spoken. Eighty-eight percent of these students speak the city's top 9 languages. The top 5 spoken languages (2001-2002) are:

Spanish 64%
Chinese 8%
Urdu 3%
Haitian 3%
Russian 3%

Immigrants to America, including their children, seem to be highly motivated for upward mobility. For some, as they encounter obstacles in their new life, this motivation decreases. Immigrants face problems peculiar to their status as immigrants: crowded housing, low wages, and language barriers. They also face problems with which U.S.-born citizens struggle in modern America: healthcare and education. The impact of immigrants on these systems, and the debate over whether immigrants give to or take from these systems, has become more controversial in post-9/11 America.


Bloomberg seems to advocate for the use of medical services by people who have entered the country illegally. But he connects their need for medical care to the need to protect citizens from contagious diseases. "Do we really want people with contagious diseases not to seek medical treatment? Do we really want people not to get vaccinated against communicable diseases?"

According to the New York State Department of Health, several contagious diseases showed a decrease in numbers of cases in 2004: including A.I.D.S., gonorrhea, hepatitis A, hepatitis B-acute, malaria, measles, rubella, salmonellosis, shigellosis, syphilis early, tuberculosis, and typhoid fever. A few contagious diseases showed an increase in numbers of cases: including encephalitis, haemophilus influenzae, meningitis aseptic, mumps, and pertusis (whooping cough). The most severe increase was meningitis aseptic which reached from a low of 127 cases in 1996 to a high of 706 in 2004.

CASES - 2004
A.I.D.S. 5545
Amebiasis 460
Babesiosis 14
Campylobacteriosis 823
Encephalitis 183
Giardiasis 1088
Gonorrhea 10860
Haemophilus Influenzae 84
Hepatitis A 352
Hepatitis B - Acute 163
Legionellosis 73
Lyme Disease 357
Malaria 206
Measles 4
Meningitis Aseptic 706
Meningococcal 27
Bacterial Miningitis 105
Mumps 20
Pertussis 196
R.M.S.F. 5
Rubella 1
Salmonellosis 1263
Shigellosis 419
Syphilis early 1302
Toxic Shock Syndrome 1
Tuberculosis 1039
Typhoid Fever 19
Yersiniosis 7

Is it fair to say that immigrants are spreading these diseases? It must be noted that diseases are also spread by the homeless (including the homeless who have been incarcerated) and by drug addicts, and that these two groups of people often overlap. A report entitled, "Tuberculosis and Homelessness in the United States, 1994-2003," states: "Black individuals represented the highest proportion of T.B. cases among the homeless and non-homeless. The proportion of homeless persons with T.B. who were born outside the United States (18%) was lower than that for non-homeless persons with T.B. (44 percent)."

An earlier report, "Tuberculosis Among Foreign-Born Persons in the United States, 1993-1998," stated: "During 1993-1998, the T.B. case rate was 32.9 per 100,000 population in foreign-born persons compared with 5.8 per 100,000 in U.S.-born persons." What accounts for the differences in these two reports? It is possible that, with the passing of time, people indeed sought medical services. It is also reported that the states bordering Mexcio--Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas--experience 76.7 percent of the tuberculosis cases in America. For the purpose of this essay, it is significant that the tuberculosis cases in New York City, 1995-2004, reached a high of 2445 in 1995 and a low of 1039 in 2004.

In New York City there are hospitals and clinics which offer services to the uninsured on a sliding-scale fee basis. The fee for outpatient services ranges from $15.00 to $60.00. These systems will also help patients apply for government assistance. There are 17 such hospitals located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. There are also 17 clinics located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island which offer various free services for tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, flu shots, and immunizations for children.

Contagious diseases, therefore, do not appear to be uncontrollable in New York City. But people need medical services for conditions other than contagious diseases. There are both emergency and non-emergency conditions for which people use hospital emergency rooms. Around 55 percent of illegal Hispanic immigrants are uninsured. The following is an example of a problem which many Americans worry is more typical of illegal immigrant hospital use:

Ten months ago, Saul Diaz, an illegal immigrant, was in a car accident which almost killed him. In an effort to keep him alive, doctors at the Gwinnet Medical Center in Atlanta removed his spleen, repaired head wounds, a fractured arm, and holes in his intestines at a cost of $810,000 which will eventually be forwarded to tax payers. Currently, Diaz still has a hole in his stomach the size of a pineapple and gets nutrients intravenously.

However, the hospital wants him to be cared for at home by his family members or in a nursing home until a final surgery will close the hole. The hospital negotiated with the Mexican Consulate who agreed to transfer Diaz to a Mexican hospital but later revoked his promise because Diaz's family did not want him in Mexico. Diaz's family residing in the U.S. also refused to care for him because they could not afford it.

Latino advocates argue that the hospital's actions are unconscionable and that Diaz is not being given proper treatment because he is an uninsured, illegal immigrant. However, the larger issue is the hospital's cost of treating uninsured illegal immigrants. Currently, hospitals are required by federal law to provide emergency treatment to anyone until they are stabilized. However, the cost for caring for uninsured patients in Atlanta has risen dramatically over the past two years. From 1997 to 1998, the cost rose from 2.7 million to $5.1 million at Gwinnett Medical Center, and two other hospitals closed partly because they could not afford to treat uninsured patients.
[End of quote.]

A 2000 study by R.A.N.D. entitled, "Do Immigrant Children Use Medicaid Differently?" takes a look at the cost of medical services for immigrants' children:

Thus, the marginal cost of extending Medicaid eligibility to children of immigrants appears to have been small. These results do not imply that the total cost of providing Medicaid to immigrant children is insignificant; as discussed above, the United States has been spending on the order of $5.5 billion per year on Medicaid payments for children of immigrants. The key point is that reducing Medicaid eligibility for these children will not necessarily save money as long as children remain eligible for costly emergency care. In fact, costs could increase if lack of preventive care eventually increases the number of emergency cases.
[End of quote.]

Mayor Bloomberg does not mention any situations such as the above in his testimony. Bloomberg also does not mention immigrant problems with substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and attempted suicide; and obesity among immigrant children. He also does not mention that immigrants are prone to misdiagnosis due to language barriers. Immigrant health and mental health problems, and immigrant use of medical services, need to be studied thoroughly and objectively in order to establish fair immigration laws and policies and to develop efficient health programs. Americans need to know if cases like that of Saul Diaz are rare or common.

The Center for Immigration Studies reports (2004) that illegal immigrants account for 3.6 percent of the population, 0.9 percent of tax payments to the federal government, and 5.6 percent of the cost of federal (not state or local) programs. In dollars and cents, illegal immigrants create an excess of $7 billion annually for Social Security and Medicare Part A; and a deficit of $10.4 billion annually from federal services. Some of this deficit results from low tax payments rather than actual use of services. Illegal immigrants tend to make less money (therefore are taxed less) and to have larger families than mainstream Americans. Illegal immigrants' children born in the U.S. are legal American citizens and eligible for Medicaid. Illegal immigrants also use W.I.C. and school lunch programs. Although not the focus of this essay, it should be noted that illegal immigrants account for nearly one-fifth of federal prisoners which has an impact on the cost of operating prisons and courts.


The graduation rate of all students in New York City is 52.7 percent. The graduation rate of L.E.P. students is 43.5 percent. However, new immigrant children are highly motivated and teachers report it is a pleasure to teach them. There are various explanations as to why many of them do not excel. English deficiency is probably the major reason for their dropping out of high school. Immigrant children come to America with different levels of native language skills. Some know their native language fluently, while others are below their age level in their own language. Lack of native language skills is often due to lack of educational opportunities in their native country and to adverse political realities. Mexican immigrant parents often come from rural areas, are uneducated and unable to help their children with homework.

As an example of adult immigrants, the following chart shows the levels of English proficiency among Korean immigrants with a mean age of 49 years:

Very Well 6%
Moderate 32%
Not Well (L.E.P.) 57%
Not at All 5%

Some acculturated immigrant children and U.S.-born minority children tend to lose interest in school work. When immigrant children learn that they have an illegal status in America, they can become discouraged about their future. U.S.-born minority students who experience discrimination can develop an oppositional attitude toward education.

Yet, Bloomberg says, "For our children to have a bright future, two things are true: a strong America needs a constant source of new immigrants. And in a post 9/11 world, a secure America needs to make sure that those immigrants arrive here legally." "We have a right--and a duty--to encourage people to come, and at the same time to ensure that no one who is on a terrorist watch list sneaks into our country." With an overall high school graduation rate of 52.7 percent, is it not absurd to conclude that more immigration will provide our children with a bright future? If our children include immigrant and minority children, then I fail to see any connection between their wellbeing and school dropout rates.

What happens to the dropouts of New York City? A few will go on to get their G.E.D.'s. But what about the others? Where will they get jobs? Will they become the next generation of dishwashers, hotel maids, and nannys? All legitimate jobs are honorable, and society needs people to work in service jobs, but will the dropouts (both citizen and non-citizen) work alongside new illegal immigrants on low-paying jobs with few or no benefits? Bloomberg states, "By taking advantage of current technology, we can provide the federal government with the tools necessary to enforce our immigration laws and protect workers from exploitative and abusive conditions." Does this mean that employers will be required to increase wages, provide health insurance, pay overtime for more than a 40-hour work week, and cease any off-the-books cash wages? If so, how will New York City's lawbreaking businesses survive? Bloomberg needs to answer these questions.

Among Korean immigrants, for example, working in restaurants, hair and nail salons, dry cleaners, groceries and delis, many (73 percent) are subjected to overtime work without any employment agreement for a higher overtime pay. The following chart shows the number of hours worked per week by Korean immigrants:

Over 80 Hours 2%
71-80 Hours 17%
61-70 Hours 6%
51-60 Hours 29%
41-50 Hours 27%
40 Hours 27%
Less Than 40 Hours 4%

Probably many of us work overtime without pay to keep our jobs. Who among professionals has not come in early, stayed late, worked a weekend, or taken work home just to catch up on paperwork or phone calls? There are differences, however, between exploited professionals and exploited immigrants. Professionals usually work on salary and are sometimes expected to work adjusted hours, and perhaps be compensated in the form of extra time off. Also, professionals are entitled to paid holidays and sick days which most immigrant workers probably to do not receive. Working 50 hours per week is a lot more bearable if you know you will have both the time and the money to take a nice vacation.

America's Middle Class

Middle class citizens also encounter problems with healthcare and education as these systems become both inadequate and expensive. The majority of families with an income of over $50,000 per year are insured. Hispanics and blacks are less likely than whites to work on jobs where health insurance is provided. High school dropouts are almost twice as likely not to have health insurance as those who graduated. Despite these facts, all Americans including immigrants and illegal immigrants are at risk for substandard medical care. Five hundred people die unnecessarily per day in America's hospitals. Moreover, some insured workers will hesitate to seek medical care because of high deductible expenses.

Less Than High School 39.7%
High School 20.9%
College 11.3%
Graduate or Professional Degree 6.5%

Is America's middle class disappearing, or transforming into something different for the next generation? Bloomberg states, "Although they broke the law by illegally crossing our borders or overstaying their visas, and our businesses broke the law by employing them, our City's economy would be a shell of itself had they not, and it would collapse if they were deported. The same holds true for the nation." This is a powerful and shocking statement. Is it true that America would collapse without uneducated, uninsured, low-skilled workers; some of whom are being abused and exploited by their employers? Are they, rather than the middle class, the backbone of America? Bloomberg proposes that current illegal immigrants receive amnesty. Does that mean New York City will respect their rights as legal workers? Will this then cause New York City's economy to collapse?

In 2004 the poverty level was $9,827 for an individual and $19,484 for a family of four. Perhaps this represents a significant increase in income for new immigrants, especially as this money is sent back to their under-developed native countries to help family members, but this does not represent the fruits of America's work ethic and the hope of upward mobility. This is not sustainable, educationally or economically, for the continuation of America's middle class. The definition of middle class (in my opinion) must include high school graduation, a minimum income of $40,000, health insurance, pension participation, manageable credit cards, positive net worth, and opportunity to advance to a higher level within the middle class or to the upper class.

The Hispanic middle class in America is smaller than the white middle class, but a study (1998) by the Thomas Rivera Policy Institute shows that it is increasing. This is true, however, of U.S.-born assimilated Hispanics and much less true of foreign-born Hispanics. (One survey shows that middle-class, middle-aged, U.S.-born Hispanics are more likely to favor strict immigration laws than foreign-born Hispanics. This division within the Hispanic community seldom receives media attention.) It is new immigrants, many currently working in America illegally, to whom Bloomberg seems to refer when he says that the American economy would collapse without them. It is astounding that America, the most successful democracy in the world, has become dependent on an underclass of the working poor.

Let me interject that I do not think that an immigrant dishwasher with a 6th-grade education should expect to make as much money as a college professor. Sometimes people have to start at the bottom and work their way up. Today's immigrant dishwasher, however, should be able to expect that he can learn fluent English, get a G.E.D., and aspire to become tomorrow's restaurant manager. The immigrant dishwasher's labor should not be abused or exploited just because he is both desperate and highly motivated for a better life.

National Sovereignty

Bloomberg also says, "It's as if we expect border control agents to do what a century of communism could not: defeat the natural market forces of supply and demand and defeat the natural human desire for freedom and opportunity. You might as well sit in your beach chair and tell the tide not to come in."

Although communism may have tried to "defeat the natural human desire for freedom and opportunity," America's border control agents are not reincarnations of communist oppressors. The Border Patrol is responsible for monitoring traffic into America. It is their job to prevent illegal entry as well as to prevent the smuggling of W.M.D., drugs, and contraband. Our national sovereignty, which would include protection of lands and preservation of values, is essential to our democracy. It is not the intention of the Border Patrol or the U.S. government to squash the hopes and dreams of impoverished people. Border Patrol officers rescue thousands of people who otherwise would die while attempting to cross the desert. Communist leaders were torturers and mass-murderers. Border Patrol agents are heroes.

Bloomberg states he is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform but, when he compares illegal immigration to the tide coming in, it sounds like he actually believes in open borders. He seems to advocate for reform only as a means to procure homeland security (and to maintain federal funding for homeland security in New York City). While he states that New York City would collapse without its current illegal workers, and he finds it "understandable" that businesses need to hire these workers, he nevertheless blames the federal government for allowing this situation to exist. Bloomberg makes several such contradicting statements, as though attempting to appease all parties involved with or affected by immigration reform, thereby rendering the text of his testimony a maze to analyze.

Future Immigrants

Eventually, immigration reform laws will go into effect. America will continue to welcome immigrants. Let us hope our lawmakers will accurately assess our country's needs and capacity, and systematize immigration to promote our prosperity and ideals. The new laws will, with greater or lesser weight, focus on (1) post-9/11 security, (2) national sovereignty, (3) law enforcement and penalties for lawbreaking, (4) humanitarian values, (5) international relationships (particularly with Mexico--there are over 2,600 U.S. companies in Mexico), and (6) partisan politics. In addition, I have provided suggestions on how to avoid some of the past mistakes and confusion.

Guideline for Hiring Immigrants:

  1. Employment preference must be given to American citizens.
  2. Employers must offer livable and on-the-books wages.
  3. Employers must provide health insurance to both full-time and part-time employees, with family-plan options.
  4. Insurance companies must provide plans with low deductibles and low co-payments.
  5. States welcoming illegal immigrants should consider state insurance plans such as those recently implemented by Massachusetts and Vermont (and taxpayers must understand and agree to such funding, especially if any illegal residents become eligible for free medical services).

Whether people come to America as students, temporary workers, or as immigrants seeking citizenship, their experience of America should be positive. Those who return to their native countries should be able to speak favorably of Americans and our form of government. Those who seek citizenship should be treated fairly. Everyone should obey the immigration reform laws. And, those laws should be constructed such that there will be absolutely no "understandable" need or excuse for lawbreaking.


America, regarded by many as the land of immigrants, cannot contain all the people of the world. Moreover, unplanned and massive immigration over a relatively short period of time places burdens on hospitals and schools. Those of us who care about the welfare of people, rather than the exploitation of their labor or the manipulation of their potential political clout, might consider ways to improve the quality of life in other countries so that immigration is not the only viable alternative to poverty or persecution.

The Peace Corps began in 1960 under President John F. Kennedy. Over 182,000 volunteers have provided services to 138 countries. Currently, most volunteers teach school, work in agriculture, increase awareness of A.I.D.S./H.I.V., and help develop business and technology. Americans who volunteer for the Peace Corps improve the lives of others through sharing expertise as well as establishing personal relationships. Citizens of other countries can remain in their communities, keep their families intact, maintain their own cultures, and speak their native languages.

Another possible consideration is the sponsorship of children through organizations such as World Vision and the Christian Children's Fund. These organizations work with children, their families and communities. Besides receiving education and health care, children feel hope for their future and increased self-esteem through correspondence with their sponsor. Individuals can sponsor a child (or more than one child); and school and church groups can also sponsor a child as a humanitarian project.

Finding solutions to the world's problems does not have to involve extreme either/or thinking. If people really care, and if we use a little creative thinking, we can help one another and develop friendly international relationships.

[NOTE: This essay was extremely difficult to write due to lack of current, specific, and reliable information. Utmost care was taken to find unbiased data. The author's purpose was to gather information into a unified whole, and not to argue the pros and cons of immigration or to judge any group of people on the basis of their economic or social status. The remarks directed at Michael Bloomberg are the author's personal reactions. This essay is therefore subject to error.] (Written 08/07/06: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2006 Natalia J. Garland