Although the Florida lawsuit was eventually dismissed, the case was important because it represented the first time a state sued the federal government for costs associated with illegal immigrants. The state alleged that the growing number of illegal immigrants in Florida was the result of flawed federal immigration policies that imposed an unfair economic burden on the state.
In 1994, Florida became the first state to sue the federal government for reimbursement of the costs of services to immigrants. Florida’s long coastline had historically provided popular entry points for large numbers of immigrants bound for the United States from
Lawton Chiles was elected governor of Florida in 1990. By 1993, it was estimated that 345,000 undocumented immigrants were living in Florida who had cost the state $884 million in public services. Governor Chiles repeatedly asked the federal government to reimburse the state for money spent on the immigrants. He was part of a group of governors who wrote a letter to President
Frustrated by the failure of the federal government to respond, Chiles sent a letter to Florida state attorney general
On August 5, 1994, the number of refugees attempting to flee Cuba again rose dramatically when Fidel Castro instructed his country’s coast guard to allow Cubans to leave the country. With thousands of new immigrants reaching Florida on
On December 20, 1994, U.S. district judge Edward B. Davis dismissed Florida’s lawsuit on the grounds that federal assistance to states for immigration expenses was a political question, not a legal issue. The state then appealed its case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. However, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision on November 8, 1995, and dismissed the claims of the state. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case when it denied a petition for writ of certiorari on May 13, 1996.
Boulard, Garry. “Immigration: Left to the States.” State Legislatures 32, no. 9 (October-November, 2006): 14-17. Copeland, Emily. “When Backyards Are Borders: The Debate over Immigration Issues in Florida, 1994-1996.” In The Ethnic Entanglement: Conflict and Intervention in World Politics, edited by John F. Stack and Lui Hebron. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Garcia, Maria Cristina. Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida, 1959-1994. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S.