SEBRING — Two Florida counties, told to receive 500 migrants each per month from detainees at the southern U.S. border, have protested a lack of planning by federal agencies.
Broward and Palm Beach counties learned this week that federal officials, who have run out of room to process migrants at the international border in El Paso, Texas, will now bring migrants to the port at Riviera Beach for processing, and release into the community.
The move threatens to overwhelm those counties’ public and charity resources, said government and law enforcement officials at a press conference Thursday. Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric L. Bradshaw said the intent of the U.S. Border Patrol is to bring “family units” of 135 people per week, per county, to the area for an indefinite period of time. They would be processed at the local Border Patrol facility, given a court date to appear, then let go without plans for food, shelter or work.
Bradshaw said the county already has a homeless problem along with outbreaks of Hepatitis A and measles, and doesn’t have extra resources.
“We get the fact that this is a humanitarian issue. We understand that,” Bradshaw said, “but I want you to think through this a minute. Is it humanitarian to bring people who have no real connection here, have no shelter here, have no way to provide for (themselves), from an area where at least they’re being provided for now, into an environment and release them with no means of transportation? To me, that’s not humanitarian.”
“To be honest with you, this is not something that was planned,” said Mayor Mack Bernard of the Palm Beach Board of County Commission, “and we want better (plans) from our federal government.”
Bradshaw said he and other Palm Beach officials first learned of the Border Patrol intent early in the week. When he held a press conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Ron DeSantis had not yet heard the news, which left state officials scrambling for answers, News Service of Florida reported, despite DeSantis’ outspoken support for federal efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.
The Republican governor’s office said Florida counties and the state itself lack the resources to accommodate an “influx of illegal immigrants.”
“We have been very cooperative, and then to have this put into certain communities, I think it’s just something that we don’t want,” DeSantis said Friday during a press conference in Sarasota.
“First of all, nothing is concrete,” DeSantis said. “There’s been no migrants brought and released in Florida from this whole problem. Not one migrant has come in, according to the White House, which we talked to yesterday. I just want to let people know that.”
Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who sponsored a state bill banning “sanctuary cities” and chairs the statewide Republican Party, also does not support this proposal.
“I agree with Governor DeSantis and say this is not something the state has resources to handle. We were not aware this was planned, still looking into the details, but we are not supportive of this decision,” Gruters said.
Details remain sketchy, but the move is believed to stem from efforts to alleviate problems at the U.S.-Mexico border, News Service reports. Based on information that migrants would come from El Paso, Texas, to Broward and Palm Beach counties for release pending asylum hearings, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent a letter late Thursday to the Department of Homeland Security, seeking answers.
In his press conference, Bradshaw said Border Patrol officials told him they sent people to states where they intended to go after crossing the border.
Given that any transplanted migrants might filter into surrounding counties, Highlands County officials said they’ve watched this issue develop with concern.
“Highlands County does not have, currently, the infrastructure to accommodate any amount of homeless,” said County Administrator Randy Vosburg through County Public Information Officer Gloria Rybinski.
When asked how migrants released in two relatively nearby counties might affect Highlands, Rybinski said she had no way of telling anyone what the effect would be.
Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund, at a conference, was unavailable for comment.
Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler said he didn’t have much to add to what officials in Broward and Palm Beach said, other than to speculate that those locations were chosen because the president owns property there.
Democratic officials have called the move “political payback,” News Service reports. Both Broward and Palm Beach counties are two of the state’s largest Democratic strongholds.
Sheriff Paul Blackman said Friday he had just returned from the Peace Officers Memorial Ceremony in Washington, D.C. He’d heard about the issue, but had not heard any plans to bring migrants to Highlands County, although he said it didn’t sound like Palm Beach officials were aware they were coming until the last minute.
Blackman said he and command staff would need to talk about contingency plans.
“They have a lot more than we do,” Blackman said of coastal counties, “and they say they don’t have resources. We’re in the same boat — more so.”
It would be like having people come from the coasts to shelter from a hurricane, he said, only the county doesn’t open shelters for transported migrants.
With school still in session, Blackman said, there would be no place to shelter them, anyway.