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Did Mexicans drive up costs? El Paso mayor complains to Congress.

El Paso mayor complains to Congress

EL PASO, Texas - El Paso Mayor Larry Francis last week blamed Mexican undocumented workers for costing the city tens of millions each year, in the latest volley in a feud that has divided officials of this border city.

On Sept. 19, some 400 police agents working for the Immigration and Naturalization Service closed down a 20-mile strip of land separating El Paso from Juarez, Mexico. It brought to a trickle the estimated 10,000 Mexican residents who regularly cross into El Paso for work.

Francis' assertion came in testimony before the U.S. Congress. He said he supported the border patrol's "Operation Blockade."

Francis' assistant, Mark Smith, told NCR the mayor's office estimates annual expenditures on the undocumented of $6.4 million for health care, $9.7 million for education, $2.5 million for police processing and $13 million for detention in county facilities.

Francis' testimony has been called into question, however, by local hospital school and other officials. "I was dismayed," said Pete Duarte, chief executive officer of Thomason General Hospital, the largest public hospital on the U.S.-Mexican border. Cost figures on serving undocumented patients are simply not available, said Duarte. He said hospital officials do not ask for patients' citizenship status.

But the hospital did provide the mayor's office a "guesstimate" of only $2 million to $3 million a year, well under the figures cited by the mayor, Duarte said.

"The fact that we provide roughly $50 million a year in charity and bad debts for the people (U.S. citizens) of this community pales in comparison to what we provide the undocumented," Duarte said, estimating that only 2 percent of the hospital patients are undocumented immigrants who live and work in El Paso.

Duarte accused the mayor of playing into anti-immigration "hysteria" by promoting the idea that Mexicans are coming across the border for their health care.

A school superintendent for the local Ysleta Independent School District also questioned Francis' conclusions. "We do not register youngsters by national citizenship ... we wouldn't have any data on that," said Tony Trujillo.

Instead of going after "economic refugees," the United States should prosecute American employers who exploit Mexicans, said Trujillo. "We should clean up our own house first."

Estimates of El Paso's undocumented population vary from 3 to 10 percent of the city's 500,000 residents. These undocumented are in addition to the estimated 10,000 who cross illegally for daily or weekly work.

As for the figures on processing immigrants, police department spokesman Sgt. Bill Pseil said, "(Francis' staff) developed the statistics out of their office." He refused further comment El Paso County Sheriff Leo Samaniego said he had "no idea" where Francis came up with his figures about costs of detaining undocumented workers accused of crimes.

Meanwhile, local church and human rights activists have maintained Francis is simply playing with numbers in order to score political points.

Francis did not return NCR's calls last week.

"We should be building bridges, not barriers," said Jose Moreno, director of the immigrant and refugee services for the El Paso diocese.

He said small businesses are being hurt by the blockade. Many undocumented workers purchase food and other staples - cheaper here than in Mexico - before returning home.
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Title Annotation:Larry Francis
Author:Martinez, Demetria
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 15, 1993
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