Mentally ill patients are being placed on waiting lists for treatment because Florida's mental health institutions are crowded with illegal immigrants.
The crisis puts Florida at the forefront of a national debate over whether illegal immigrants should enjoy the same public health care rights as legal residents.
Florida's mental health facilities have spent $19.6 million to care for at least 86 undocumented immigrants counted during an informal November survey and more unidentified illegal immigrants could be in custody, state officials said. The growing population has put a strain on the state's mental health resources, contributing to a waiting list of 60 beds.
State officials want to turn the illegal immigrants over to federal immigration officers. However, Florida lawmakers would first have to exempt illegal immigrants from patient confidentiality laws.
The Republican-led Legislature could be sympathetic to the idea.
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