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[January 22, 2013]
The Modesto Bee Steve Taylor column
CERES, Jan 22, 2013 (The Modesto Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- He seemed sweet, the palsied man sitting gnarled in the wheelchair next to me. Mid-20s, black hair, bony brown legs poking out of baggy shorts, and his eyes seemed to track the movement of the nurse aides bustling by.
Diego's group home in central Ceres called me because they said he kicks people. He kicked all right -- anyone who dared walk within 9 inches of his right flank. With the force of a falling towel. Ridiculous. But every new placement gets evaluations from physical, vocational, recreational, music and speech therapists, so behavior analysis was next.
Regulations. They drive a conservative like me crazy. They also pay my bills.
Looking through his file, I noted Diego and his mother are getting their bills paid for an attorney to help them stay in the United States. Both apparently are in the country illegally, conditions unclear, and the Valley Mountain Regional Center, the same place that pays me, is paying lawyers to keep them here.
This is a whole new level of insanity that needed an explanation.
So I asked Paul Billodeau Jr., executive director of Valley Mountain, the generic question of whether the center really pays to get consumers their green cards.
"If a child is a citizen of the United States and his primary caregiver was the one to be deported, then we would probably help (with legal services)," he said. People suspected of having a developmental disability, such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy or autism receive free diagnosis and treatment through the California Regional Center system regardless of ability to pay or immigration status.
Valley Mountain spent nearly $45,000 for legal services for over 80 illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. during fiscal 2012, which ended last July, with an additional $15,000 paid in this fiscal year.
"It's a planning team decision. We don't provide the service just to anyone who wants their papers," Billodeau said.
Sixty thousand dollars is tiny portion of the budget, but the idea that one government-funded program, Valley Mountain, is paying to hinder another government agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, from doing its job struck me as schizophrenic.
"If mom's willing to take care of him (a severely disabled child), it's a lot cheaper for us to ... get her legal, then we don't have to pay for a board and care home," Billodeau explained.
Cheaper. I heard that. But Diego's already in a care home and taxpayers are still paying for his and mommy's lawyers.
All I had to do now was speak Diego's full name to show Billodeau that some of his 250 employees are engaged in some serious mission creep. Instead, I thanked the man and slouched out of his office, defeated.
I didn't tell the executive director Diego's name and situation for the same reason I changed his name, address, behavior, and maybe even gender for you: Because Diego needs protecting. He can't speak and tell us where he's from, but I'm guessing his mom wouldn't have left a country that cared for its disabled well. I couldn't toss Diego, and dozens like him in Valley Mountain's five-county region, over the border fence when I had the chance.
Some conservative I am.
Taylor, a resident of Oakdale, is a behavior analyst. He was a visiting editor at The Bee last quarter. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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