JANUARY 29, 2009
A Florida appellate court has ruled that illegal immigrants cannot benefit from a publicly funded state rehabilitation program for victims of brain and spinal cord injuries.
An administrative judge had previously determined that a state rule rendering illegal aliens ineligible for Florida’s Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Program is an “invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority.” The case involves an illegal immigrant from Mexico, living in central Florida’s Hardee County, who was injured when his vehicle was struck by a drunk driver.
The Mexican national enrolled in the rehab program, which aims to provide all eligible residents who sustain a traumatic brain or spinal cord injury the opportunity to obtain the necessary services enabling them to return to their community. With regional offices throughout the state, the program is partially funded with traffic-related fines, surcharges for driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and license tag fees.
The Florida Department of Health challenged the illegal immigrant’s qualifications for the costly services, pointing out a state Administrative Code that specifically disqualifies those who don’t live in the state legally. This week the Court of Appeals for the First District of Florida agreed, reversing the administrative judge’s previous ruling.
In its seven-page decision the appeals court said that the program services constitute state public benefits under the 1996 federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act and, because the Florida Legislature has not affirmatively provided that illegal aliens are eligible, they are not.
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