In­flux called off — maybe

Fed­eral of­fi­cials say talk of ship­ping mi­grants to Florida was mis­con­strued.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY DAVID SMILEY AND MONIQUE MADAN

As South Florida’s sher­iffs and may­ors pre­pared Fri­day for a loom­ing im­mi­gra­tion cri­sis man­u­fac­tured by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion moved to down­play the possibilit­y that planes filled with bor­der­cross­ing fam­i­lies will be­gin touch­ing down soon in Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties.

There are cur­rently no im­mi­nent plans to send thou­sands of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants to South Florida from the in­un­dated south­west bor­der, Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cials now say. Rather, they say, ef­forts to ex­plain “con­tin­gency” plans to lo­cal sher­iffs this week caused a mis­un­der­stand­ing that mush­roomed into a statewide po­lit­i­cal cri­sis and un­der­scored the hap­haz­ard­ness of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies.

“That’s news to me,” Broward Mayor Mark Bo­gen said Fri­day, a full 24 hours af­ter he went public say­ing that fed­eral of­fi­cials had in­formed South Florida law enforcemen­t that as many as 1,000 im­mi­grants could be flown each month from the Mex­i­can bor­der. “No one in­formed us of that. I hope it’s true.”

The be­lated clar­ity from Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion could at least tem­po­rary quell a tem­pest that be­gan Thursday af­ter the chief of Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion’s Mi­ami of­fice briefed po­lice in Palm Beach and Martin coun­ties on plans to pos­si­bly fly fam­i­lies of un­doc­u­mented immi

grants from the south­west bor­der to South Florida. But it’s too late to avoid a con­tro­versy that had Florida Gov. Ron DeSan­tis — one of Trump’s most vis­i­ble al­lies — crit­i­ciz­ing the idea.

“We can­not ac­com­mo­date in Florida the dump­ing of un­law­ful mi­grants into our state. It will tax our re­sources, our schools, the health care, law enforcemen­t, state agen­cies,” DeSan­tis said Fri­day, not­ing that the Leg­is­la­ture just passed a law ban­ning so-called sanc­tu­ary ci­ties.

“We’ve been very co­op­er­a­tive and to have this then put into cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties here. I think it’s just some­thing that we don’t …” he said, piv­ot­ing quickly to a new point with­out fin­ish­ing the thought.

DeSan­tis, who blamed the con­tro­versy on fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy com­ing from Congress, said he’d “in­ves­ti­gated” the is­sue but had not spo­ken with the pres­i­dent.

Like most ev­ery­one in Florida, though, the gover­nor seemed to be get­ting his in­for­ma­tion from Palm Beach County politi­cians and po­lice of­fi­cials, who had been briefed this week by Cus­toms and Bor­der Pa­trol of­fi­cials about plans to send as many as 1,000 im­mi­grants to South Florida each month. The plan, they said, was ne­ces­si­tated by a surge of bor­der cross­ings in the south­west U.S., where more than half a mil­lion peo­ple have sought to en­ter the coun­try since Oc­to­ber.

But de­tails were scarce, and Palm Beach County Sher­iff Ric Brad­shaw said he was told that im­mi­grants were go­ing to be flown into Palm Beach In­ter­na­tional Air­port, pro­cessed at the port and then re­leased into the com­mu­nity with­out food or shelter and with only a date to re­turn for a hear­ing in im­mi­gra­tion court. As many as 500 peo­ple could be com­ing each month in Broward, he said, and also in Palm Beach — where Trump has his Mar-a-Lago winter re­treat.

In Martin County, Sher­iff Wil­liam Snyder said he was also in­formed by Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion’s chief in Mi­ami that some of these im­mi­grants would likely make their way to the small and pre­dom­i­nantly His­panic vil­lage of In­diantown, where some im­mi­grants may have fam­ily.

“I don’t have enough in­for­ma­tion to be calm and I don’t have enough in­for­ma­tion to be ap­pre­hen­sive,” Snyder told the Mi­ami Her­ald. “We’re out in In­diantown to­day talk­ing with churches and food banks and NGOs, try­ing to see what are our re­sources.”

Af­ter learn­ing of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plans, South Florida of­fi­cials wor­ried about their abil­ity to house, feed and pre­pare for what Palm Beach County As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice pres­i­dent Sean Bram­mer warned Thursday in a let­ter to the gover­nor could be as many as 14,000 fam­i­lies dropped each year into South Florida. Brad­shaw said Palm Beach County was not pre­pared to safely ac­com­mo­date an in­flux of im­mi­grants with un­known back­grounds.

“We think it’s a dan­ger­ous plan,” said Brad­shaw.

Bo­gen, the mayor of Broward County, ac­cused Trump of mak­ing good on plans re­ported last month to move im­mi­grants from the bor­der and dump them in Demo­cratic stronghold­s. Broward is the most Demo­cratic county in Florida, a cru­cial swing state that could de­cide whether Trump re­mains pres­i­dent next year.

But, af­ter say­ing noth­ing for more than 24 hours, Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cials ex­plained dur­ing a con­fer­ence call with re­porters Fri­day af­ter­noon that, in fact, there were no sched­uled flights to South Florida. A Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cial — who spoke to re­porters on the con­di­tion that he not be named — said the agency is look­ing at pos­si­bly sending “non-crim­i­nal” im­mi­grant fam­i­lies to South Florida as well as other parts of the coun­try where Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­fices have the com­puter ca­pac­ity to process im­mi­gra­tion cases.

What flights and trans­fers are oc­cur­ring, the of­fi­cial said, in­volve mov­ing fam­i­lies back and forth from high-vol­ume lo­ca­tions like Yuma, Ariz.; El Paso, Texas; and the Rio Grande Val­ley to Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion sub­sta­tions. Since Oc­to­ber, Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion has made about 530,000 ap­pre­hen­sions at the south­west bor­der, and on March 19 the agency be­gan re­leas­ing fam­i­lies that aren’t deal­ing with crim­i­nal charges.

Those fam­i­lies, mostly from the vi­o­lent North­ern Tri­an­gle in Cen­tral Amer­ica, are be­ing moved by bus to Laredo, Texas, or by plane to Del Rio, Texas. On Tues­day, there will be an­other plane from the Rio Grande Val­ley to San Diego. South Florida is not re­ceiv­ing any fam­i­lies.

But the area does re­main a pos­si­ble destinatio­n should a rush of des­per­ate im­mi­grants con­tinue to pour from Cen­tral Amer­ica into the U.S. An av­er­age of 4,500 peo­ple have been ap­pre­hended each day over the last week, ac­cord­ing to Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, and old and out­dated fa­cil­i­ties are too strained to hold every-one. Some 180,000 peo­ple have been re­leased on no­tices to ap­pear since March 19, of­fi­cials said.

There are no plans for fed­eral as­sis­tance for those im­mi­grants re­leased into ran­dom com­mu­ni­ties, nor is there any ex­pec­ta­tion that those im­mi­grants know any­one in the com­mu­ni­ties where they are sent, ac­cord­ing to Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion.

Even af­ter Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion moved to down­play the chances of ever flying im­mi­grants to South Florida, con­fu­sion lin­gered. Two hours af­ter re­porters were briefed, a Palm Beach County spokesman sent out a news re­lease say­ing that Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion “has plans to trans­port 270 im­mi­grants, pre­sumed to be un­doc­u­mented, into Palm Beach County each week for an un­de­ter­mined time pe­riod.”

“De­tails re­gard­ing this im­mi­grant place­ment strat­egy from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment have not been pro­vided to the county,” the state­ment said, “nor is there any ev­i­dence of a fed­eral plan to ad­dress the ba­sic needs of food, shelter and se­cu­rity for the ar­riv­ing fam­i­lies and the im­pact on our com­mu­nity.”

The fact that no one knew or trusted in­for­ma­tion about what was hap­pen­ing for more than a day was largely blamed Fri­day on Trump’s scat­ter­shot im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies. Snyder, who at­tended Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2017, called the fact that re­porters were call­ing him to ex­plain the de­tails of fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy was “sub­limely dis­con­cert­ing at best.”

“This directly can be re­lated to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s ut­terly in­co­her­ent im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy,” he said. “That’s why we’re hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion. This does not make sense.”

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