Facing high costs, Florida to sue U.S. over immigration 'nightmare'

March 14, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The tide of immigration is costing Florida's schools, hospitals, prisons and other public services $2.5 billion last year, according to a report Gov. Lawton M. Chiles Jr. will release today.

Mr. Chiles' 28-page report -- "The Unfair Burden, Immigration's Impact on Florida" -- will serve as the basis for a lawsuit the governor plans to file against the federal government over a failed immigration policy.

The price tag the state has settled on is a big chunk of public spending -- roughly equivalent to all the money spent to run Florida's public colleges and universities.

"For millions of people seeking a better life, arrival on American soil is a dream come true," Mr. Chiles said. "However, federal immigration policy has created a nightmare for state and local governments in Florida that are forced to shoulder the enormous burdens caused by that policy.

The $2.5 billion expenditure included $884 million to provide services for illegal immigrants, the report says.

"We've been trying to say the federal government's failure to accept responsibility for undocumented immigrants has placed a burden on us," he said. "It is depriving our citizens of services we can't give them."

The suit growing out of "The Unfair Burden" is expected to be filed as early as this week.

The report also raises the possibility of deporting foreign citizens in Florida's crowded prisons. There were 3,500 criminal immigrants in Florida's prisons last year.

"Unfair Burden" acknowledges the cultural diversity and richness" immigration has brought to Florida in the past few decades. In 30 years, Florida's foreign-born population grew from 11th-largest in the nation to third-largest, after California and New York.

Today, nearly a million people in Florida -- 7.3 percent of the state's population -- are in the United States legally but are not citizens, the report says. The federal government has estimated that 345,000 other immigrants who came to the country illegally live in Florida.

The state receives about 50,000 legal immigrants each year, gaining 600,000 foreign-born people in the 1980s -- a trend that is expected to continue through the 1990s, according to the governor's report.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is warily awaiting the state's lawsuit, wondering how Florida computed the bill it is presenting.

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