Gov. Pete Wilson's suit seeking $2.4 billion from the federal government for the costs of illegal immigration was rejected Tuesday by a federal appeals court, which said the dispute was political, not legal.
Wilson has repeatedly accused the Clinton administration of failing to control the nation's borders and leaving the states with the bill. He sued the government in 1994 for California's costs of education, emergency health care and imprisonment of illegal immigrants.
The suit claimed, among other things, that California was under "invasion" by illegal immigrants, estimated by state officials at 1.7 million people, or 5% of the state's population. The government is therefore violating its constitutional duty to protect the states from invasion, Wilson contended.
He also argued that the state should not be forced to pay for the federal government's failures, and that the government was failing to enforce laws on deportation of illegal immigrants who commit crimes.
But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said courts have no authority to decide such issues. For the most part, the court said, they are "political questions" to be decided by the president and Congress.
For example, courts lack jurisdiction as well as standards to determine "whether or when an influx of illegal immigrants should be said to constitute an invasion," said the opinion by U.S. District Judge Robert Merhige of Virginia, temporarily assigned to the appeals court.
He also said the constitutional requirement to protect the states from invasion was designed to guard against "armed hostility" from abroad, not immigration.
The 3-0 ruling upheld a decision by U.S. District Judge Judith Keep of San Diego to dismiss Wilson's suit. In a separate order, the court upheld dismissal of a suit by Arizona seeking $30 million for the cost of imprisoning 2,000 illegal immigrants. Arizona did not claim costs for health care or education.
Wilson said he was not surprised by the ruling.
"This is a ground-breaking case that raises novel legal issues which we knew would have to be decided by the United States Supreme Court," the governor said in a statement. "We are now in a position to seek review from the high court."