Gov. DeSantis: Migrant influx something 'we don't want'

By Ana Ceballos, The News Service of Florida
News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A day after local officials said the federal government plans to send about 1,000 migrants a month to two South Florida counties, Gov. Ron DeSantis bemoaned the move, arguing that under his leadership the state has been “very cooperative” with federal immigration authorities.

“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 news conference in Sarasota.

The Miami Herald and Sun Sentinel reported late Friday afternoon that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said the agency does not have imminent plans to send migrants to Broward and Palm Beach counties. But transporting migrants to South Florida is a possibility as part of "contingency" plans, the newspapers reported.

"We do not have any aircraft flying into Florida at this time, but we are looking at capacity building," the Sun Sentinel quoted a federal official as saying. 

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw had said U.S. Customs and Border Protection could start sending about 135 migrants twice a week to Palm Beach and Broward counties and that the plan could start as soon as the next two weeks. Bradshaw said he talked to officials at the federal immigration enforcement agency.

Bradshaw made the news public Thursday before DeSantis and other officials, including Attorney General Ashley Moody, who works with law-enforcement agencies across the state, were informed. That left state leaders scrambling for information.

“First of all, nothing is concrete. There’s been no migrants brought and released in Florida from this whole problem,” DeSantis said Friday. “Not one migrant has come in, according to the White House, which we talked to yesterday. I just want to let people know that.”

Moody has reached out to law-enforcement agencies that would be affected to discuss their concerns and “evaluate the impact of this plan on Florida,” said Lauren Schenone, a Moody spokeswoman.

State Sen. Joe Gruters, who sponsored a bill banning “sanctuary cities” during the recently completed legislative session and doubles as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said he is “not supportive” of the federal government plan.

“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, R-Sarasota, said.

Though details remain sketchy, the plan is believed to stem from efforts to alleviate problems at the U.S.-Mexico border. Citing reports that migrants would be moved 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 asking a series of questions.

Rubio asked for confirmation about whether the federal government plans to transport migrants to the area. He also asked more specific questions about issues such as when migrants could start to be transported to Florida, how locations in the state were chosen and whether the department has worked with state and local officials and organizations to prepare for the influx.

Democrats, meanwhile, blasted President Donald Trump’s administration on Thursday, with one describing the plan as “political payback.” Broward and Palm Beach counties are Democratic strongholds.

DeSantis said Friday, however, the plan came from federal agencies, rather than the White House.

“This is not something that came down from the White House, it is something that came out of the agencies,” he said. “Sometimes this stuff happens, and this is something I am ultimately going to have to talk (about) with the president.”

DeSantis said local and state resources would be strained as a result of the federal government “dumping unlawful migrants into our state.”

“I think that it will impact resources, the schools, the health care, law enforcement and state agencies,” the governor said.

The first-term governor, a former U.S. House member, said Congress’ failure to pass immigration reform should not be a burden for Floridians.

“We are really focused on using the resources we have to help the quality of life of Floridians, and to just be put on the hook for things that really are resolved at the Congress’ level, and failed policy at the federal level, that is not acceptable,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also has been a major supporter of banning sanctuary-city policies and intends to sign the bill that passed the Legislature.

“We, basically, as a state said we are going to work with the federal government constructively,” he said. “We are going to work with them to remove criminal aliens. We are not going to be like some of these other states that are not allowing federal authorities to come into a jail or courthouse.”

News Service of Florida