The 70 percent solution

Gooze Views
Peter Galuszka

The devil is certainly in the details. One week ago, I wrote an opinion piece, questioning the figures used in a report by Chesterfield County trying to justify a claim that the county spent more than $2.1 million annually on illegal aliens. The report is a run-up to a hearing Nov. 14 on illegal immigration and whether the county should crack down. Curiously, the report gave no estimate of how many illegal aliens are actually in Chesterfield – the sine qua non for estimating costs on county services.

The report bugged me and a lot of others. Not only did my column generate more than four dozen responses, I got a call from Deputy County Administrator Rebecca Dickson (whose name I had badly misspelled). The county had directed me to her for more detailed explanation of where data in the Aug. 16 report by County Administrator James J.L. Steigmaier came from. I had tried and failed to reach Ms. Dickson, who now wanted to set me straight.

Before getting into specifics, let me say that Ms. Dickson is obviously a public servant trying to do a tough job fairly. She impressed upon me that the county staff is well aware of how racially loaded the issue of illegal immigration is. Counties such as Prince William have adopted strident anti “illegal” measures, but the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors (just shaken up in elections) hasn’t done anything yet.

After reviewing her explanation and tapping other sources, nonetheless, I have come to a few conclusions. First, Chesterfield’s figures are too suspect to justify any kind of crackdown at all. The grand harrumph about illegals is based on bad data, guesses and lots of anecdotes. The more I studied the Chesterfield report and did my own research, I came up with figures and views completely opposite or certainly nowhere as profound.

But that doesn’t solve the massive problems in Stegmaier’s report. For starters, officials in Chesterfield, population about 300,000, estimate that from 17,500 to 21,000 illegal aliens – all of them Hispanics — live in the county. This revelation came during an interview with Dickson and has never been made public, perhaps because the estimate is so flimsy.

The number is important because it is the basis of the $2.1 million cost estimate of the County’s total budget of $336 million. Ms. Dickson says that the cost numbers hold despite the uncertainty as to the total numbers of illegal aliens. To me, that defies logic.

In coming up with its alien guess, the County looked only at Hispanics and no other immigrant group. (Racial profiling, anyone?) The latest 2000 U.S. Census reported that 15,000 county residents checked the box “Hispanic” beside their names. Mind you, these people could be here legally or illegally. All they did was check a box on a chart. To this, Chesterfield officials add another 10,000 to 15,000 Hispanics. This was the brainchild of a “Hispanic cross functional team” that worked in the county two or three years ago, Dickson says. So, we are up to levels of 25,000 to 30,000 of Hispanics who are in the county legally or illegally, by the County’s count.

How do we know how many are here illegally? In Chesterfield, we guess and we come up with a whopping 70 percent, equating to about 17,500 to 20,000 illegals in all. Why 70 percent? According to Ms. Dickson: “Essentially this (aforementioned) team, indicated that anecdotally, they believed that about 70 percent of the Hispanic population was here illegally. That is how we got 70 percent.” The County did a second estimate based on massaging census figures another way and got a lower illegal population of 13,150.

“Ridiculous” is the reaction of Communication Director Jesus Moreno of the Falls Church-based advocacy group, The Hispanic Committee of Virginia. Moreno’s group uses figures from the nationally known Pew Research outfit, which estimates that of the 40 million Hispanics in the U.S., from 10 to 11 million are undocumented. If that ratio is common everywhere, then Chesterfield’s population of illegal Hispanics, assuming the totals are correct, is more like 4,000, or about one fifth of Chesterfield’s guess. Says Moreno: “I guess they knocked on the doors of 10 Hispanics and figured that seven people were illegal.”

To back the county’s methodology, Ms. Dickson directed me to a report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, which does studies for the General Assembly. In 2004, JLARC published a report on how “foreign-born” Virginians were faring. “Foreign born” could mean illegal but also could mean naturalized U.S. citizens or ones here with proper documents.

When I checked the report, I couldn’t find much to back Chesterfield’s estimates. In fact, I found just the opposite.

While the number of foreign-born residents increased statewide 83 percent from 1990 to 2000, the total amounted to about 570,279 or a small fraction of the total state population. Most, 41.3 percent, were from Asia with 33.3 percent from Latin America. This is interesting because Chesterfield chose only to study Hispanics, not Koreans, Indians, or Chinese for potential illegal status. And, the JLARC report cited only about 13,523 “foreign born” – legal or illegal of all backgrounds — residents in Chesterfield, which is hard to square with Dickson’s numbers. Even the county’s illegal Hispanic figures are way higher than these. However, from 1990 to 2000, Chesterfield’s “foreign-born” population did double.

To be sure, I called Phil Leone, executive director of JLARC. His group’s 2004 report could not find much negative impact from foreign born Virginians and noted that the report didn’t specifically look at illegals. “There wasn’t a great demand on services,” he said. Rather, he said, “the foreign born contribute immensely to the state economy.” Told of Chesterfield’s estimates of illegal Hispanics, he said, “They didn’t get that from our report. They may have read our report and made their own assumptions.”

Indeed, assumptions are not facts, but they sure play a role in politics. The illegal alien invasion has been an ugly rallying cry by state Republicans as they tried to make up for various failings in the Nov. 6 election. They were only partly successful, losing the Senate to the Democrats. In Northern Virginia, a key battleground, the GOP’s tactic may have worked in outer suburbs of Loudoun and Prince William, but failed in the inner suburbs of Arlington and Fairfax, which are much more diverse and have larger immigrant populations, The Washington Post notes.

Chesterfield is an outer, Republican suburb like Loudoun where many residents in the white majority are not used to diversity. Some are quick to scream “illegal” when confronted with non-English speaking, dark-skinned people.

Unfortunately, come the Nov. 14 hearing, many will probably vent their fears and their ignorance as they have been primed to do by their local GOP leaders. Fanning the flames will be Chesterfield’s badly flawed report. No doubt it will be cited as the Gospel truth by other Virginia localities as they form vigilante squads to fight the supposed alien invasion.

— November 12, 2007

The White Man’s Burden

Some estimated Chesterfield expenses for illegal immigrants:

— Juvenile Court. $3,048 annually handling an estimated 5 Juvenile Court. $3,048 annually handling an estimated 5 cent of all cases that involve illegal immigrant

— Circuit Court. $16,935 annually handling about 80 hours per week handling illegal immigrant cases.

— General District Court: 20 to 25 cases per week involving illegal immigrants totaling $64,300 annually, plus Spanish language services.

— $230,00 annually handling an average of six illegal immigrants in jail. Daily jail population can reach 400.

Data: Chesterfield County.

Peter Galuszka is a veteran journalist living in Chesterfield County.

(Photo credit: Maria Galuszka.)

© Copyright 2007 Bacon’s Rebellion. All rights reserved.

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15 responses to “The 70 percent solution”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.”

    Moe Schemp

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    “Chesterfield is an outer, Republican suburb like Loudoun where many residents in the white majority are not used to diversity. Some are quick to scream “illegal” when confronted with non-English speaking, dark-skinned people.”

    We have 307,000 people. This comment assumes the majority of the population is ignorant and prejudice. Who made you god? You are making assumptions, yet you are quick to criticize Becky Dickson. A bit hypocritical, don’t ya think?
    She is a staff member trying to do her job. The current chairman of the board is pushing the illegal immigrant issue HARD. It isn’t Ms. Dickson’s decision.
    In January, the board will be new, and will present a different set of problems.
    That said, I was born here and I am documented. What do you have against requiring people be documented?

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    I acknowledged Ms. Dickson’s situation in my column.

    I am documented, too, with a birth certificate in the U.S. and a passport and a Social Security number. I have no problem with you being documented.
    I support everything I wrote in this column, including my opinion that the report the Chesterfield County staff wrote was badly flawed, regardless of what politician is pushing the issue.

    Peter Galuszka

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    As a political tactic in Prince William and other parts of Northern Virginia, the Great Wetback Scare proved effective.

    I am not the least bit surprised that a local government bureaucrat proved to be a totally inadequate social scientist and produced a flawed report — but I also think the Chesterfield report reached the conclusion that it was expected to. She was following orders, explicit or implicit. If you start out looking for something, you find it.

    There is a problem. Employers who knowingly hire illegals should be punished, and on repeat offenses, punished severely. Illegals who commit crimes should get a fast ride back where they came from. But it is a problem that reflects a deeper and more important underlyi8ng problem with our labor supply and our demand for the cheapest possible goods and services. And a global economy produces tends to produce a global workforce. I really don’t see hoards of college educated Americanor even high school graduates hanging around street corners looking for day labor jobs on construction sites. We are at virtually full employment.

    A good solid recession will fix things nicely. They’ll go home and Americans will get to work on roofing crews again. Won’t that be progress!

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    one more thing… an entire demographic segment of society as been turned into Democratic voters


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    YA THINK!??

    All fatal wounds in politics are self-inflicted. The rule applies to parties as well as candidates.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Peter G- You didn’t answer the question, and It doesn’t matter if you think we are all that ignorant. In case you didn’t catch it the first time… What do you have against everyone being documented?

    Anon- I agree that wounds are self-inflicted, and he isn’t returning to office in January.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    “the nationally known Pew Research outfit …. estimates that of the 40 million Hispanics in the U.S., from 10 to 11 million are undocumented. If that ratio is common everywhere..”

    But of course it isn’t. Some sections of the country have had Hispanic communities dating back generations. Immigrants that came to the US in the last 20 years are far more likely to be illegal than residents of these long-standing communities simply because the current massive illegal immigration is fairly recent. The descendants of families in the US for generations are by definition legal. Also, the several amnesties, especially the 1986 general amnesty, cleared the slate on about 3 million illegal aliens in the US as of a bit over 20 years ago. It is quite likely that Chesterfield County’s immigrants are more recent with a higher than “average” illegal ratio since CC hasn’t had a substantial Hispanic community for years as has Miami, California and the border states. I seriously doubt the illegal rate is 70%, but it is almost certainly higher than 25%.

    “However, from 1990 to 2000, Chesterfield’s “foreign-born” population did double.”

    And from 2000 on, increased even more. See

    Domestic migration (Richmond, which lost substantial population?) dwarfed foreign migration to CC. I suspect that CC doesn’t have nearly the problems that PWC has now; however, if PWC had addressed its problems when they were at the stage that CC’s are now, it, too, wouldn’t have the problems it has now.

    Deena Flinchum

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Anonymous 7:25 p.m.

    As far as objecting to everyone being documented, well, let’s just say it is personal experience.

    From 1986 to 1989, I was posted as a U.S. news correspondent in the Soviet Union (and later when it was Russia from 1993 to 1996).

    Back under Communist rule, every Soviet citizen had to carry around an “internal” passport. This listed your “ethnicity.” If you were Jewish or Uzbek, both official entries, the prejudice began.

    Plus, they had a “propiska” system, whereby even if you were properly “Russian,” you still had to have a living permit to reside in desirable cities. This let to subterfuges of all types. Lots of cops and, if serious enough, KGB officials, ran around and checked all the “proper documentation.” People were constantly being rousted and sometimes detained for hours if not days.

    So, dear anonymous 7:25 p.m., having lived in what truly was a police state, I’d hate to have it replicated in Chesterfield, Virginia or the United States.

    I may be more “liberal” than most on this blog, but I still believe in civil rights, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and human rights. If all these damned, puffed out “Virginians” had any education, they’d understand this is exactly what their own Founding Fathers wanted to prevent.

    God Bless America!

    Peter Galuszka

  10. NoVA Scout Avatar

    I appreciate Peter’s taking a sharp pencil and a flinty eye to some of these goofy claims for impacts of illegal immigration. There are indisputably negative effects caused by the failure of federal immigration policy and the incompetence of federal lawmakers to address the issue in an effective manner. But the local impacts have been far more useful as tinder for smokescreens for third-rate pols than as quantifiable netting-outs of benefits and burdens of immigration. I’m certain the analysis attempted here to evaluate the Chesterfield claims would be similar if done in Prince William (although the concentration might be higher in Prince William). The point is, however, that we’ve made ourselves crazy over this issue without a sound empirical understanding of its net impacts, positive and negative. All this furor not only lets demagogues have a field day, but it also diverts energy and attention from the federal level, where a strong comprehensive policy is long overdue.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    “The point is, however, that we’ve made ourselves crazy over this issue without a sound empirical understanding of its net impacts, positive and negative. All this furor not only lets demagogues have a field day, but it also diverts energy and attention from the federal level, where a strong comprehensive policy is long overdue.”

    Well said. And it isn’t only this issue. Without a sound empirical understanding net impacts, positive and negative, we are probably continually shooting ourselves in our ideological feet, doing far more harm fighting over the issues, than the issues are worth.


  12. andrea epps Avatar
    andrea epps

    I think Mr. Galuszka should come down to 9901 Lori Road this evening and tell his story at the public hearing in Chesterfield. Personally, I think it is a bit of a stretch to compare this situation to what he experienced. The only time anyone has ever asked for my “papers” is when I was driving way too fast.
    I do agree with the point he makes on the founding fathers, but I also see the benefit to registration of some kind, if for no other reason than human services.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Ms. Epps,

    I think I’ve made my points clear. It is time to give others a chance to speak.

    Peter Galuszka

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    Thanks, Peter, for bringing to light the nebullous figures that were used to come up with cost impacts to the county. I was researching this also in drafting a public comment for the Board meeting on the 14th. I found that the SCAAP reimbursement for FY 2006 was just under $50,000. This was supposed to cover police and jail costs. This is quite a bit less than $1.3 million. Of, course health and court services could be $1.3 million. But why were all 4 grouped under one total? Why weren’t cost figures broken out into the 4 categories: police (since they know this figure), health, courts, and jails (since they know this figure). Many Hispanics in Chesterfield use the privately-funded Bon Secours Care-A-Van for health services.

    Bottom line is, just as you have declared, there is no way for Chesterfield officials to know how many illegals are living in the county.

    Also, Chesterfield uses the services of a public-sector consulting firm in Dallas, Texas, Justice Benefits, Inc. in order to apply for the SCAAP. How much did this cost the taxpayers, in order to be refunded $50,000?

    Enforcement of federal immigration laws is outside the authority of local and state jurisdictions. The county does not have the authority to inquire into the legal status of residents except for criminal activity.

    To put costs in balanced perspective, I believe we need to also consider the positive contributions that illegal immigrants make to our economy — they do business in Chesterfield, they pay sales taxes, and they provide much needed services and labor.

    I find that Hispanic children in our schools are the most well-behaved children of all. These parents send their kids to school to behave, learn, work hard, and they are the best peer role models and friends for my kids! I would much rather my kids hear Spanish all day long in school rather than the profanity in English that is the norm in most middle and high schools in the county.

    Another concern is the force behind the anti-illegal immigration in Prince William County. They have used a legal arm of FAIR (Federation of American Immigration Reform) to draft their (probably) unconstitional resolution and one of FAIR’s largest contributors is Pioneer First, a eugenics organization. Hopefully, Chesterfield will not follow in PW’s footsteps. In my view, there is not much that CC can pursue in the way of an anti-illegal resolution that would hold up in a federal court as being constitutional. Currently, counties do not have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws.

    Do private businesses ask prospective employees if they have paid all their IRS taxes before they hire them?

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    I don’t know what the beef is. The Real ID Act will take care of all these little details. No ID? No service.

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