Is drop in Florida's illegal immigration related to surge at southern border?

Immigration Attorney Ira Kurzban said there are likely multiple factors at play
Posted at 7:40 PM, Feb 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-13 19:40:08-05

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — The immigration debate is heating up at the U.S.-Mexico border, but in South Florida, migrant encounters have actually gone down.

In February 2023, Customs and Border Protection reported a 661% increase in migrant encounters across South Florida.

This year, however, agent Adam Hoffner with Border Patrol's Miami Sector said the agency is seeing about a 100% decrease in encounters.

"We have been seeing a slight decrease in migrant encounters," Petty Officer Eric Rodriguez of the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Rodriguez spoke to WPTV's Kate Hussey soon after the agency announced repatriated 33 migrants back to Haiti.

Haitian migrants near Fort Pierce Inlet. Feb. 3, 2024.png
Haitian migrants near Fort Pierce Inlet.

The migrants' boat ran aground on Feb. 3 off the coast of the Fort Pierce Inlet.

It's a common situation Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operation agents respond to.

In 2022, the agency reported 447 search-and-rescue missions involving migrants coming across the sea, averaging about 37 encounters per month.

However since Oct. 1, the agency reported only 22 such search-and-rescue operations, averaging just 4.4 missions per month.

"We could attest that decrease to our sustained, enhanced presence," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said he believes the decrease could also have to do with rough seas attributable to this winter's El Nino pattern, as well as the large law enforcement presence that patrolled Florida's maritime borders since August 2022.

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, however, who is currently touring Arizona's Cochise County along the U.S.-Mexico Border, believes the down tick here may be related to the surge at the southern border.


"What I'm learning here from Sheriff Dannells in Cochise County is that in the last few months, they have seen dozens of illegals coming into the United States from other countries, Africa, the Middle East," Snyder said. "They believe the smuggling routes may have changed."

In December, Homeland Security statistics showed border authorities came across more than 225,000 migrants along the southern border, which they said is the highest monthly amount since 2000.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Border Patrol and Office of Field Operations together seized nearly double the amount of fentanyl, seizing 27,000 pounds 2023 compared with 14,700 pounds in 2022.

"People coming across the border, over the wall behind me are coming into Martin County. Unfortunately, also, we're seeing drugs, you’ve seen it, you’ve covered it," he told WPTV's Hussey.

Snyder left to tour the border Monday after telling WPTV he's seen unprecedented amounts of drugs coming into the County from the southern border.

He also attributed his critically overfilled jail and a surge of undocumented drivers to illegal immigration.

Ira Kurzban, an immigration attorney in South Florida who authored one of the leading references for immigration attorneys across the country, said it is indirectly easier for those seeking asylum to come via land versus via sea.

Ira Kurzban, an immigration attorney in South Florida, says it is indirectly easier for those seeking asylum to come via land versus via sea. Feb. 13, 2024
Ira Kurzban, an immigration attorney in South Florida, says it is indirectly easier for those seeking asylum to come via land versus via sea.

"The Supreme Court, a number of years ago, said if you are out in a boat and you haven't reached the shores of the United States you are not entitled to the benefits of our asylum laws," Kurzban said.

That's what happened on Feb. 3, when the dozens of Haitian migrants were interdicted before ever getting to land, and thus were easily repatriated back to their country of origin.

Kurzban, however, said it's hard to conclude our maritime borders are quiet solely because of the southern border, adding there are likely several factors at play.

"Some of it has to do with the availability of being able to get boats to come to the U.S., some of it has to do with the availability of smuggling operations," Kurzban said.

Kurzban also said not everyone coming across all of our borders is a smuggler, whether of humans or drugs, and said there are some people simply seeking protection.

"Thats not to say we shouldn't do anything, we obviously have to have order at the border but this is a complex situation," Kurzban said.

Last week, the U.S. Senate unveiled a bipartisan bill to impose tougher asylum and border laws at the U.S.-Mexico line amid calls from several southern border mayors for stronger restrictions. It still has to approved by the House and Speaker Mike Johnson said it is "dead on arrival."

The U.S. Coast Guard told WPTV they'll continue their heightened presence on the water regardless of whether numbers increase, and urged those thinking of coming across not to take to the seas for safety concerns.