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Migrant landings in Florida soar more than 400% from year ago, overwhelm resources

Gov. Ron DeSantis activates National Guard
Posted at 10:16 AM, Jan 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-09 10:40:08-05

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday he has activated the National Guard and will be deploying additional state resources to the Florida Keys to help local authorities respond to the recent surge in migrant landings along the islands.

Recent images from U.S. Border Patrol's Miami sector and the Homeland Security Task Force Southeast Division revealed a glimpse into the latest deluge of migrant landings in South Florida.

The migrants' arrivals, often on dangerous, rickety boats, are happening almost daily, even multiple times a day along the Florida Keys.

The Keys, which is a 180-mile stretch of islands in the Florida Straits, is the southernmost point of the mainland U.S.

RELATED: Florida lawmakers respond to surge of migrant landings in Keys, but offer no long-term fix

It is a frequent maritime border entry for Haitians and Cubans who enter the country illegally because of its proximity to the Caribbean islands.

"This is crazy, this is out of control, and we can't sustain it," Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay told us about a month ago while describing the historic surge in landings to the area.

According to U.S. Border Patrol, the number of migrant landings in Florida has soared more than 400% from a year ago.

Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay outlines the problems his agency is facing amid the influx of migrants.
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay outlines the problems his agency is facing amid the influx of migrants.

Ramsay has described the surge as a mass migration crisis and said the frequency and volume of the events are exhausting local resources. His deputies are often called to help before migrants are taken into federal custody.

After more than 700 migrants, mostly from Cuba, landed along the Keysover the New Year's weekend, Ramsay issued a statement Monday expressing frustration and pointing blame at the federal government for its "lack of a working plan to deal with a mass migration issue that was foreseeable."

Lawmakers who represent the area are also responding to the influx.

"I believe in the rule of law. I'd like to see these people come in, though, in a way that my family came here from Cuba," explained state Sen. Ana Rodriguez, R-Doral, whose district includes Monroe County.

State Rep. Jim Mooney, R-Islamorada, who also represents Monroe County, explained why this influx is different.

"We've never had a problem with landings," Mooney said. "It's just the magnitude of the landings and the stretching of resources. When resources are on the shore, and somebody's having a heart attack and all the ambulances are somewhere else. This is a bad thing, so we need some help."

But up until late Friday afternoon, noticeably absent from the week's headlines about Florida's migrant landing surge was DeSantis. The governor has made stopping illegal immigration into the state a top priority. He also hasn't been shy about injecting himself into the national immigration debate, even when it involves migrants in other states.

State Rep. Jim Mooney shares his thoughts on the migrant crisis impacting the Florida Keys.
State Rep. Jim Mooney shares his thoughts on the migrant crisis impacting the Florida Keys.

Back in September, DeSantis took credit for funding and organizing two controversial private flights that transported nearly 50 asylum-seeking migrants in Texas to Martha's Vineyard, calling it a response to Biden's border crisis.

"If Biden would just do his damn job," the governor said at the time.

The day before the governor issued a press release announcing he's activating the National Guard and directing state agencies to provide additional resources to the Florida Keys, we asked Mooney on Thursday what, if any, communication the governor has had with him and local leaders in the area about the latest surge.

"Not with me directly. It's not to say he (DeSantis) hasn't been in touch with local officials in the Keys, but I don't know," Mooney told us Thursday afternoon. "I did send a text to the staff today letting the governor know that it's escalating at this point."

When asked about any communication the governor had with Ramsay over the week, a sheriff's spokesperson on Thursday didn't respond.

After multiple requests to the governor's office for a response to the surge, spokesperson Bryan Griffin on Thursday evening sent us a statement that read:

"We are aware of this situation and presently working on it. The Governor is committed to acting within his power to shield Florida from the disastrous effects of President Biden's abdication of his responsibility to secure our nation's borders. Please stay tuned."

By week's end, the governor responded with a new executive order activating state resources but not without getting another jab in against the Biden administration.

"When Biden continues to ignore his legal responsibilities, we will step in to support our communities," the governor stated in a press release.

Biden announced Thursday changes to the nation's immigration policy that includes turning away Cuban, Haitian and Nicaraguan migrants who enter the United States illegally at the Mexican border.

Neither the Customs & Border Patrol or the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have responded to our questions if, or, how those policy changes impact migrants who enter through Florida's maritime borders.

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