FLORIDA KEYS, Fla. — As the southwest border braces for an expected surge in migrants, agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said they are gearing up for a potential influx in illegal immigration too.
Title 42 is a policy put in place by former President Donald Trump's administration during the COVID-19 pandemic to immediately expel migrants in an effort to protect public health.
It essentially took away the ability for migrants to have a hearing to seek asylum in the U.S.
Here's what the ending of Title 42 means for migrants in Florida
With the policy expiring Thursday night, hundreds of U.S. troops headed to the southern border Wednesday to brace for a potential surge of migrants coming across.
Adam Hoffner, an assistant chief patrol agent with U.S. Border Patrol's Miami sector, took WPTV on an exclusive ride along in the Florida Keys for an inside look at the issue.
Hoffner said technically the policy only applies to the southwest border and shouldn't have any effect on Florida's maritime borders.
According to Hoffner, Florida has only ever adhered to Title 8, which requires any non-citizen who crosses the U.S. border illegally, and without legal reason to stay here, to be quickly processed for removal.
In other words, Title 42's expiration won't make it any easier or harder for a migrant here to seek asylum.
Yet Hoffner said it's all about perception. If people trying to get to U.S. soil don't realize that, the perception may be that our maritime borders seem more open than they have been, even though that's not the case.
"There have been cases, you know, rumors put out or misinformation, things like that, which can potentially impact illegal maritime migration," Hoffner said.
Hoffner added that could spur more migrants coming across the Florida straits.
"We are positioning ourselves to be prepared in case there are influxes or increases that happen," Hoffner said.
On the other hand, Hoffner said we could see the opposite happen. He said if people seeking to reach U.S. soil believe the southwest border is the one more open, we could see migrants that would typically cross the Florida straits from Haiti or Cuba instead go through Mexico.
"There is that potential," Hoffner said. "The maritime environment is extremely dangerous. We'll see migrants taking longer journeys from say Cuba, for example, and travel all the way through Central America down through Mexico."
Hoffner said the key is being ready either way and with multiple resources both within and outside of Customs and Border Protection, Hoffner said they are ready.
"We're prepared if there are increases to be able to quickly respond," Hoffner said.
Thousands wait along southern US border as end of Title 42 nears
He added that the maritime border is extremely dangerous to cross and not in any way open.
Title 42's expiration also comes as Gov. Ron Desantis just extended an executive order for 60 more days to keep the National Guard and other state and local law enforcement agencies in the Florida Keys.
Hoffner said that increased presence will be helpful if the area sees an uptick in illegal immigration.
The expiration also comes as Hoffner said there was a migrant landing in Boynton Beach on Wednesday. Air and marine agents with Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard also interdicted several migrant boats in the Florida Keys on Thursday morning.