MARATHON, Fla. — When it comes to the politics of illegal immigration in Florida, state Senators Shevrin Jones and Ana Maria Rodriguez walk their traditional party lines.
"I believe that Florida should be a state that welcomes individuals with open arms," Jones, a Democrat who represents parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties said.
Rodriguez, a Republican from Miami whose district also includes the Florida Keys, doesn't agree.
"I don’t agree with the overall policy of having an open border and letting everyone in," Rodriguez told us.
After spending a few days with U.S. Border Patrol and federal agents with U.S. Customs & Border Protection's Air & Marine team in the Florida Keys recently, we showed the lawmakers what we witnessed there. The Keys is Florida's main seaside point of entry for migrants willing to make treacherous journeys on the water for a chance to make it to land here.
Over a 48-hour period, our cameras captured the round-the-clock response to migrant landings on shore and interdictions at sea. Both have reached record highs this year, according to U.S. Customs & Border Protection.
"When you see what's happening over in Cuba and when you see what's happening over in Haiti, that's why many of these migrants are fleeing there and trying to find places where they can provide for their families. It's a humanity issue that we're battling right now," Jones said.
In response to our special series, "Landing in Florida in-depth on Immigration," Rodriguez described what we captured as, “it’s very indicative of what’s happening at the national level, under the Biden administration, which is basically telling them [migrants] that we’re open,” she said.
Rodriguez's parents are from Cuba, where many migrants who land in Florida come from due to its proximity to the state. During the last legislative session, Rodriguez co-sponsored legislation to create the state’s new immigration enforcement law aimed at thwarting illegal immigration into Florida.
The laws, among other things, prohibit the state from contracting with companies that help the federal government transport migrants into Florida.
Though migrants who land on shore often arrive in rickety, homemade boats of their own, we asked the senator if the new law, originally pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, has had much impact since the number of migrants landing on Florida shores is reaching new records.
In response, Rodriguez said, "since you mentioned DeSantis, he has sent some of these folks who have come here in droves to other parts of the country."
Rodriguez is referring to the governor’s controversial migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard back in September. DeSantis was quick to take credit for the flights, which have since cost Florida more than one million dollars to fly nearly 50, mostly Venezuelan migrants, out of Texas.
The migrants filed a class action lawsuit accusing the DeSantis administration of misleading them onto the flights by promising them services, housing, and work but then abandoning them once they arrived on the elite Massachusetts island. The move has also prompted other lawsuits, reviews, and a criminal investigation by a Texas sheriff.
Rodriguez supports the use of Florida funds to pay for the transport of migrants who weren’t even in Florida when they were sent to another state.
“I think that states who are on the border, like Florida, Texas, Arizona, and so forth, should also spread that responsibility to other states. So yes, I think we need to do that,” she said.
On the other end of the political debate over immigration enforcement, when Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone asked Jones if, at some point, a crackdown on illegal immigration into the state needs to happen, he responded, “You can enforce the law. You can also work within the boundaries of the law. You can do all of that without treating people like animals.”
Both senators spoke broadly about solutions and reform to fix the illegal immigration problem in Florida. Senator Rodriguez believes the answer boils down to “the basics and telling the world we have a secure border and to actually have a secure border,” she said.
Jones believes answers can only come when both political parties start working together.
“Right now, it’s who can do the most extreme thing to make the news,” he said.
But neither lawmaker could specifically explain how to solve the state’s illegal immigration issues, as the number of migrants landing by water in Florida continues to surge.