Trump administration to release some migrants caught along southern border into South Florida

Alan Gomez

MIAMI – The Trump administration is preparing to release hundreds of asylum-seeking migrants caught along the southern border into Florida's Broward and Palm Beach counties, with no apparent plan to house, feed or care for them, according to local officials who have been briefed on the plans.

Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen said Thursday that Customs and Border Protection officials told him they would unload about 1,000 migrant families each month, evenly split between the two counties, for an unknown period of time.

Bogen called the plan "irresponsible" and warned that it would create a "homeless encampment" in his South Florida county.

"To bring hundreds of people here every week without providing the necessary resources to house and feed them is inhumane," Bogen said.

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Migrants walk along a highway as a new caravan of several hundred people sets off in hopes of reaching the distant United States, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, shortly after dawn Wednesday, April 10, 2019. Parents who gathered at the bus station with their children to join the caravan say they can't support their families with what they can earn in Honduras and are seeking better opportunities.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said Thursday that he received a similar briefing from the Customs and Border Patrol chief in Miami. He said the migrants would be mostly families currently being detained in El Paso, Texas. They would be processed at CBP facilities in Broward and Palm Beach counties, given a date to appear in immigration court and then released into the community.

Beyond that, Bradshaw said CBP offered no other details or offers of assistance.

"No accommodations for transportation leaving (the CBP facilities). No accommodations for shelter or a place to live," he said. "Just no real plan on what's going to happen to these…people."

CBP did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CBP, did not respond either.

But the decision to ship migrants to Florida appears to be the latest, and most distant, effort by Border Patrol to release Central American families directly into local communities.

The agency has complained that its facilities have been overwhelmed by the record number of migrant families crossing the border. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is responsible for interior immigration enforcement and has more detention space available, has also said it's running out of space.

That led Border Patrol agents to begin releasing migrants directly into local communities, at bus stations, community shelters, churches and other places along the border. That's been happening in Tucson since March. 

It remains unclear why the Trump administration selected South Florida as the first location not along the southern border. Trump has discussed wanting to punish so-called "sanctuary cities" that do not fully comply with federal immigration laws by dumping migrants in those communities. But Bradshaw has vehemently denied that Palm Beach County is a "sanctuary" community, as have Broward officials.

Palm Beach County is also home to Trump's Mar-a-Lago club.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan demanding answers to nine questions before any migrant transfers begin. Rubio acknowledged that the migrant flow is "overwhelming" CBP personnel along the southern border, but he wants to know how the decision was made to send migrants to non-border states, why they chose Florida, and how long the transfers would take place.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., has been in touch with local sheriffs and has reached out to the White House and the Department of Homeland Security to get more details about the plan, according to spokesman Chris Hartline. 

The transfers are expected to begin within the next two weeks, leading South Florida officials to dust off their mass migration emergency plans originally designed for waves of Cuban and Haitian rafters that occasionally land on their shores. Bradshaw said he never envisioned that plan be used for this kind of situation.

"A mass migration plan is designed to handle something like the Mariel Boat Lift, where people come here…and then we take them into custody and turn them over to Border Patrol, it's not Border Patrol bringing us their overflow from another state," he said. "That's not what it was designed for."

Palm Beach County Mayor Mack Bernard said they have discussed setting up tent cities to temporarily house the migrants after they're released from CBP custody. They may also call on local health districts to screen the migrants for any communicable diseases or medical problems.

Bernard said he may even request an emergency declaration given the costs and resources that may be required to care for the migrants while protecting the welfare of his residents.

"If we have to address this as our responsibility, we will do everything in our power to feed those individuals and to provide them shelter," Bernard said. "But it will create a financial strain on our already tight budget."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump administration to release some migrants caught along southern border into South Florida