Immigration to Florida
The views expressed on this page are those of individual authors and may not reflect the views of the U.S. government. The information contained herein should be used for information purposes only.
Florida is the third largest state in the country and the seventh fastest growing state in the United States. Between 1990-2000, Florida experienced a 23.5 percent population growth which translated into three million additional people. Currently, Florida is home to 16 million people. The Census Bureau has projected that Florida’s population will grow by 26 percent between 2000-2025, amounting to 20,710,000 people. Florida is currently the fourth largest state in terms of population in the United States, and it is expected to eventually pass the third largest state, New York, behind California and Texas.
As the seventh fastest growing state in the United States, Florida has received more than three million new residents in the last ten years; immigrants account for approximately one-third of this figure. This increase is larger than the states entire population in 1950. The increase in the foreign-born population accounted for 61 percent of the state’s overall population increase during the 1990s. As the fourth largest state, Florida is home to 2.7 million, or 17 percent, foreign-born residents. Florida constitutes nine percent of the country's total foreign-born population, and is six percent higher than the national average.
Illegal Immigration to Florida
According to the Migration Policy Institute, more than 700,000 illegal immigrants currently reside in Florida. This constitutes an increase of 100 percent since 1996. Many illegal migrant workers spend six to nine months out of the year in Immokalee fields picking crops. In order to alleviate illegal immigration to the state, Florida dispersed state funds to invest in overseas development and trade programs, hoping to keep potential immigrants out of Florida. In the summer of 1994, at a rate of 1,000 immigrants a day, 32,000 Cuban rafters started coming ashore in Key West. After years of complaints that the government were not doing enough, Florida sued the federal government for failing to stop illegal immigration and tried to get governmental funds to help with the costs of illegal immigration. Although the lawsuit was unsuccessful, the Justice Department released $18 million to Florida to assist in the Florida Immigration Initiative. This legislation dictates that illegal re-entries are to be handled by federal prosecutors after data is released from Florida law enforcement agencies. In 1999, Florida requested compensation of $56 million from the federal government (under the federal State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP) towards the incarceration of illegal immigrants. Florida taxpayers were responsible for the additional $34.4 million as the federal government only paid $21.6 million in compensation. Florida hospitals also feel the financial strains of illegal immigration. Federal law dictates that, hospitals cannot refuse emergency care to anyone, regardless of immigration status. Thus, many hospitals end up footing the bill for services provided to those that are in the country illegally as well as those that are unable to pay. It is not uncommon for illegal immigrants to use emergency rooms as a source of primary medical care and routine medical visits, as many of them cannot qualify for social programs and they often work in low-wage jobs with no health benefits.
Immigration to Florida causes a Housing and Water Shortage
Although Florida sits on hundreds of wetlands and lakes, receives more than 50 inches of rainfall a year, and sits atop of enormous underground aquifers, the state has severe water supply problems. With more people moving into the state, it is predicted that water use will increase by 30 percent between 1995-2020. Unless new water sources are discovered or population growth slows, it is projected that the water supply in Central Florida will dry up within five years. Plans to combat the decreasing water reserves include increasing the use of treated sewage water on lawns (as opposed to using drinking water), building a massive reservoir, and turning seawater into drinking water. With the loss of groundwater comes the loss of disappearing open space. As more land is being paved over, such as the Everglades, not only does Florida lose trees and nature, but the opportunity to use soil as replenishment for groundwater. This translates into a loss of between 7.3-17 million of gallons of water per year. Devastating the Florida Bay and the Keys, the polluted runoff from agriculture and asphalt continues to flow.
An increase in population commonly results in severely crowded housing. Florida is no exception, and the state is driven by immigrants who come looking for jobs but can often not afford rent. As a result, families often resort to living together in very crowded accommodations. In fact, it is estimated that 11 percent of all households are severely crowded. Florida’s cities are also extremely crowded, putting strains on community services which include social programs, schools, and even trash collection. The enrollment for public elementary and high school increased 35 percent between 1990 and 2000. Florida’s ratio of students per teacher is 18.4 which is the seventh highest ratio in the country and 15 percent higher than the national average. Although additional schools are being constructed, the demand for additional construction is being halted as no affordable land is available. It is common for Florida public schools to have classrooms in mobile trailers on the school property in order to try to alleviate school overcrowding. With overcrowded public schools, legislators are considering paying for students to attend private schools. While six percent of Florida's children are foreign-born, 28 percent have immigrant parents. With a high immigration rate, population growth often exceed projections. In Florida, an extra $500 million has been needed to pay for exceeded projections for the tens of thousands of students not originally accounted for. In fact, in order to keep up with the influx of foreign-born students, one elementary school per month needs to be built in the state.