Florida has the highest increase in illegal immigration of any state from 2009 to 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.
By nature of avoiding detection, exact figures are hard to come by. But using community survey data, Pews Hispanic Trends Project estimates about 925,000 unauthorized immigrants now live in the Sunshine State, or roughly one for every 11 of the nations 11.2 million illegal immigrant population.
President Obamas executive order last week in which he bypassed Congress and suspended deportations to some 4 million to 5 million undocumented aliens will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the state, both politically and economically.
Given the importance of Florida as the nations largest swing state in presidential elections and the propensity of Hispanics and Latinos to vote mostly Democratic, the presidents unilateral action is widely viewed as a bold effort to court current and future voters. Just two weeks removed from a Republican midterm election shellacking, Obama had said previously such an executive order was unconstitutional.
Nevertheless, the move was immediately hailed as a political win among the presidents most ardent immigration supporters.
Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, which translates in English as the race, called it a victory for the president, and touted economic benefits that will soon follow.
It will bolster our economy so those who are working will do so legally in a way that increases tax contributions for the nation and prevents bad employers from pitting them against U.S.-citizen workers, Murguia said.
But the net economic benefits of the immigration order, a core policy argument, are a matter of sincere dispute.
Tax revenues from an influx of millions of newly lawful residents -- still not U.S. citizens -- will indeed increase government revenues. Whether the total tax contributions will outweigh the costs of generous public benefits they may receive is unclear, experts say.
Bob Dane, communications director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants will compound existing fiscal problems.
Adding millions of poor immigrants who are mostly government dependent into a welfare system that is already at the breaking point is hardly a serious definition of stimulating the economy, Dane said.
Its going to cost a ton of money. Most illegal aliens are low skilled and dont earn enough to pay for government benefits. Those affected will get more in tax credits than any income taxes theyll put in, he added.
Thats the kind of tough talk vote-seeking politicians tend to avoid.
FAIR, a pro-legal immigration nonpartisan group, estimates that between local, state and federal costs, Florida taxpayers could eventually see a $981 tax burden per household to service the nearly 1 million unauthorized immigrants residing in the state.
Obamas executive plan has several main components, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Serviceresponsible for implementing the executive order:
- Expanding eligibility for illegal childhood arrivals to include those born before 1981.
- Allowing parents of citizens and permanent residents since 2010 to gain legal status.
- Expanding waivers to include undocumented spouses, sons and daughters.
Critics warn that determining whos actually eligible may resemble more of a rubber-stamp process given the difficulty in verifying eligibility claims. By virtue of avoiding government detection, proof of qualifying status will largely rely on self-attesting and unofficial paper documents.
Another concern is that USCIS doesnt have the resources to properly vet millions of people in a timely manner. In an attempt to further avert deportations, a new U.S. Department of Homeland Security regulation states illegal immigrants arriving before Jan. 15, 2014, will not be considered a removal priority.
Most of these folks are going to be eligible for a smorgasbord of public benefits, including Obamacare, said Dane.
Thats not true for illegal childhood arrivals who received deportation protections through a different executive order in 2012, known as DACA. That order granted legal status to as many as 1.7 million illegals, according to Pew Research. As of June, USCIS says it has processed 581,000 eligible participants.
The DACA Obamacare restriction, however, is a U.S. Health and Human Services regulation, not a law. Thus, the Obama administration has the authority to change it at any time, though it hasnt done so yet.
The millions of people affected by last weeks order, including those in Florida, are likely not considered subject to the 2012 Obamacare DACA exclusion.
Deferred action doesnt fit neatly into any existing laws that prohibit access to federal benefits, said Dane, making access to Medicaid, Medicare, unemployment, Social Security, Earned Income Tax Credit, plus state and local services, a potential likelihood.
None of this is what Congress intended, Dane said.
In terms of costs, its the current cost of illegal immigration plus the additional cost of new federal, state and local benefits, he concluded. Thats without meaningful steps to secure the border.
William Patrick is a reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WillPatrick77.