An estimated 550,000 illegal immigrants call New Jersey home, good for the fifth-highest population in any state—and the financial burden they impose on taxpayers is causing concern.
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Many illegal immigrants work as day laborers, doing lawn and garden work. Others work in local restaurants. A ride through town in the early morning hours shows many men loitering in parking lots or on street corners, waiting to be picked up for a day’s work.
The Washington Free Beacon visited a local parking lot where more than 10 day laborers were gathered. One man said he spoke English and agreed to answer questions. However, when illegal immigration and pathway to citizenship were mentioned, the man shook his head "no" and walked away. Six other men also declined to be interviewed. Those who drove up to pick the men up also declined to answer questions.
Kaaren Sena, a resident in the nearby town of Middletown, said she is aware of illegal immigrants who live in Red Bank. If immigration reform were to pass in Washington, Sena said she is not sure it will make a difference in Red Bank.
"Why would they get a job and then work to pay taxes," she said. "Why would they want to pay taxes?"
She also believes any type of reform should include some form of back taxes and penalties.
"I think many of them are hard-working, trying to make a living, and raising their families," she said. "But so am I."
She described her own situation, raising two children and continuing to pay more and more in taxes and fighting to make ends meet. However, she said, the illegal immigrants in Red Bank receive "all the benefits" from schooling to health care without paying taxes on their wages or worrying about doctor bills.
Gayle Kesselman, the co-chair of New Jersey Citizens for Immigration Control, said the cost for illegal immigrants to state taxpayers is sizeable. The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates New Jersey residents pay $3.5 billion for illegal immigrants, and the organization estimates the illegal population at 410,000, far below than the Pew Hispanic Center’s estimate of 550,000.
"Cheap labor is not cheap," Kesselman said. "Many do not have the equivalent of a high school education and are not literate in English. It’s a huge cost in terms of social benefits. They go to the emergency room for health care. … You can even make the case that we imported the health care crisis."
"When illegal immigrants use the emergency room for health care, the U.S. taxpayers bear the cost," Kesselman said. "There’s a huge cost for social benefits for illegal immigrants and the U.S. taxpayers get the bill for all of this."
Enrollment in the school district continues to rise, and the school’s budget for 2013-2014 includes "adding four teaching positions to respond to the increased enrollment."
The booming student population in Red Bank schools has reportedly stretched the school’s resources: Recent school board of education minutes show discussions centering on whether to cut either the athletic program or afterschool enrichment program.
The Red Bank school district received national attention for its work with "dual language learners." A recent report highlighted the town’s successes.
"In Red Bank, the young sons and daughters of day laborers take Suzuki violin lessons, put on theatrical performances, and perform ballet; teachers follow their social development as closely as they do their recognition of letters and letter-sounds," according to the report.
Aside from using the hospital for health care, free dental and health care is offered for the uninsured, including illegal immigrants, at the Parker Family Health Center. ABC News interviewed the founder after the center opened and he said he faced resistance "from some in the community who said the town’s illegal immigrants didn’t deserve access to the clinic."
There have been reports of criminal activity by illegal immigrants in Red Bank. An illegal immigrant from the town was one of three men charged for distributing child rape videos last month.
Kesselman said the illegal immigration problem could be solved by E-Verify. A bill requiring the technology, which helps ensure that employees are in the country legally, has been introduced in the state. It is stuck in committee because there is not enough support among lawmakers, she said.
"You can have E-Verify in New Jersey, with set penalties in place, and you have to enforce it," Kesselman said. "That is the single most important thing to stop illegal immigration. … What is it that brings illegal immigrants here? The magnet is jobs. If you enforce e-verify, you’re cutting off the magnet."