Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mobilized the state National Guard Friday to help local officials manage the huge flow of Cuban migrants arriving in the Keys.
DeSantis issued an executive order to activate the National Guard and direct state law enforcement agencies to support the Keys in response to the arrival of some 700 immigrants — mostly Cubans — just over New Year’s weekend alone.
In a statement, the governor criticized President Joe Biden and the federal government’s immigration policies and its response to the arrival of migrants in the Keys.
In his text, the governor did not mention the announcement by the Biden administration on Thursday about a new policy to start sending back Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who cross the southern border illegally, as it already does with Venezuelans. The federal government also said it would offer parole to up to 30,000 people from those four countries a month if they apply online, pay for their plane ticket and find a financial sponsor.
Some immigrant rights activists said the new policy could make things worse in Florida. Ramón Raúl Sánchez, of the Cuban-American group Movimiento Democracia, said even more Cubans could risk their lives by going to sea to reach the United States, instead of flying to Central America and arriving by land at the Texas border.
Blas Nuñez Neto, acting undersecretary for Border and Immigration Policy at the Department of Homeland Security, said the new program could encourage Cubans not to come illegally by sea.
He said Cubans might do better if they apply under the new parole program announced Thursday, because that would give them a possible path to residency that they might not otherwise get.
“Don’t risk your life at sea” because there are “much better options” under the new program, he said.
DeSantis said Florida will deploy planes, helicopters and marine patrols to the area “to support waterborne interdictions and ensure the safety of migrants trying to reach Florida through the Florida Straits.”
More than 4,400 migrants, mostly Cuban and some Haitian, have arrived by boat in Florida since August, as those two countries are experiencing deepening political and economic crises. Since Washington and Havana do not have diplomatic relations, it is problematic for the US government to send Cubans back to their country once they arrive in Florida.
Those who are detained at sea are returned, since Cuba does accept them. Nearly 8,000 Cubans and Haitians have been intercepted since August, about 50 a day compared to 17 a day in the 2021-2022 fiscal year and just two a day during the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Officials said at least 65 migrants have died at sea since August.
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